When Diogo Jota accelerated his recovery from injury for Liverpool, Paul Gorst chats with Andy Robertson and hears from Jürgen Klopp
It was no surprise to see Diogo Jota fatigue in the second half of Liverpool’s first game in four and a half months at Crystal Palace.
Prior to Saturday night’s goalless draw at Selhurst Park, the Portugal international has only played 77 minutes since sustaining a catastrophic calf injury in the final seconds of Manchester City’s 1-0 defeat on October 16.
Over the weekend, the former Wolves man added another 71 minutes to his tank in south London, demonstrating what he can provide with his tigerish pushing, selfless running, and undoubted work ethic.
The quality, on the other hand, is understandably lacking. In the first half, Jota made the most of one speculative ball over the top before being hacked down on the brink of the box. From Joel Matip’s cross, he also hit the outside of the post from an almost impossible angle.
After wriggling free to create some space from a tight angle in the Palace box, he blazed a second-half attempt into the crowd before his efforts inevitably diminished as the game progressed.
With such a lengthy layoff, which includes having to accept the fact that he would miss the World Cup for Portugal, it is not surprising that Jota has yet to take flight following his return. It would also be very unrealistic to expect him to immediately return to the levels that saw him score 21 goals in all competitions last season.
Jurgen Klopp said last month that he didn’t think Jota would take long to come back to his best after such a long layoff, especially since he missed practically all of pre-season with a hamstring injury that kept him out until September.
“He is extraordinarily intelligent in football; he will return here [in his head] because it is as if he is playing the games without playing the games.”
Expecting an immediate recovery to peak form following two debilitating injuries either side of a six-week period of availability was always going to be unreasonable, even for someone as tireless and committed as Jota.
Sadly for Liverpool, considering the hazardous state of their season, giving the attacker adequate time and space to re-find his stride is something they don’t really have. It’s been nearly 11 months since Jota last scored for the Reds, and after such a difficult season that saw him limited to just eight appearances and four starts prior to his return, it would be foolish to expect immediate results, especially while he’s working his way back to fitness in such a confidence-drained side.
“It’s nice to have Diogo back, and it’s terrific to have Bobby Firmino back,” Andy Robertson said following Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace. “Having these players to pick from is beneficial. Darwin (Nunez) obviously missed today, but perhaps he’ll be back for Wednesday (against Wolves).
“Ibou Konate has also returned to training. When everyone is healthy, we have a tremendously good squad. We’ve had some injuries, but they’re all starting to heal, which will give us an opportunity to try again.”
As a result of his hamstring and calf issues, Jota has only been able to play 319 minutes this season. Only Naby Keita (293) and Curtis Jones (189) are squad regulars who have played less. It’s a sharp reminder of what Klopp has been unable to call on for the bulk of this season; a regrettable aspect made even more poignant by the long-term absence of Luis Diaz, who hasn’t played since early October, and the fact Roberto Firmino missed 10 games until his own recent return.
Klopp just hasn’t had the arsenal of firepower at his disposal, which was one of the causes that accelerated Cody Gakpo’s transfer to Anfield at the start of the year after he was initially slated for a summer trade from PSV Eindhoven.
“It was really, really good,” the manager stated of Jota’s performance in his post-match press conference on Saturday. That’s the way it is. We attempted to increase it little, but it takes a long time (out). He had already been injured.
“He had no preseason, then played a few games and was excellent, only to be hurt again. It’s been a trying season for him. But that’s perfectly OK. Of course, he could play better, but that’s how it is. That is what we must do, and that is what we will do.”
Robertson went on to say: “So Jots’ first start in over four months is fantastic. He’s merely attempting to regain his groove after such a long break. He’s working hard to regain his momentum and sharpness. I thought he looked bright at times today, as did Bobby, so they just have to keep working on things like regaining match fitness and other such things, and maybe we will get there.
“After that, we just hope everyone stays fit. We’ve had some injuries this season, but if we can [keep everyone fit], we’ll be able to vary things up in games and bring on other options if we’re struggling in front of goal. We haven’t always had that this season.
“So it was excellent for Jots to start today; he handled everything well and will gain from it. His sharpness will come back, his fitness will be built, he played 70 minutes or so, so that’s a positive for him. He is an excellent player, and we have missed him. “Hopefully, he can keep going until the end of the season.”