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exclusive Liverpool have found the answer to the loss of Virgil van Dijk - his name is Diogo Jota

Portuguese hitman's netting the goals to make up for the loss of defensive kingpin

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Diogo Jota scores his first of three goals against Atalanta during the week. Photo:  Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Diogo Jota scores his first of three goals against Atalanta during the week. Photo: Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Diogo Jota scores his first of three goals against Atalanta during the week. Photo: Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Liverpool may have found the answer to solve their Virgil van Dijk problem - and his name is Diogo Jota.

You might think I have gone mad by suggesting Liverpool's in-form forward can fill the void created by Van Dijk, who is cruelly set to miss the rest of this season with a knee injury.

Yet, the mood around Liverpool has changed from gloom and doom that followed big Virgil's injury in the Merseyside derby last month - and much of that can be put down to Jota.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can't replace a player of Van Dijk's quality, but Jota has helped to get them thinking big once again ahead of today's crunch game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

The 5-0 Champions League win against Atalanta on Tuesday night was significant for a number of reasons, as it confirmed the ruthless title winners of last season are starting to bare their teeth once again.

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Roberto Firmino (left) with Atalanta ace Jose Luis Palomino

Roberto Firmino (left) with Atalanta ace Jose Luis Palomino

Roberto Firmino (left) with Atalanta ace Jose Luis Palomino

Yet, Jota's hat-trick in Italy was just part of the reason for my optimism, as his performance also visibly lifted the levels shown by Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who do not want to be overshadowed by the new-boy signed from Wolves in September.

Absence

Jota has now scored six goals in his last four Liverpool appearances - that's more than Roberto Firmino has scored in the entirety of 2020, so there can be no doubt he has to start against City today.

Liverpool's new centre-forward has ignited Klopp's attacking unit, which is why I say he could help to fill the void created by Van Dijk's absence.

On current form, Jota will score in excess of 20 goals this season, and that's a lot more than they got from Firmino last season.

So, even though Liverpool are likely to concede a few more goals without Van Dijk, they should score plenty more with Jota in their line-up. And it has to fuel their belief ahead of the big one against City this afternoon.

I have been saying for some time that Firmino has become a problem for Liverpool and Diogo Jota has highlighted my view in the last few games.

For the record, I'm a big fan of Bobby and he has played a big role in the success of the club in the last few years.

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Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane celebrate. Photo: Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane celebrate. Photo: Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane celebrate. Photo: Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

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His attacking partnership with Mane and Salah has propelled Liverpool to Champions League and Premier League glory.

What we cannot run away from is the harsh reality that he has lost his way pretty badly in recent months.

I'd go as far as to say he has been off the pace for a year now because, while he has contributed to the team's success, his goal return has been poor for a centre-forward in an attack-minded team.

Firmino chipped in with a few vital contributions in away matches last season, but he finished up with just nine Premier League goals. It was a poor return in a team that won the title by a country mile.

Stale

Bobby also looked out of sorts again in the opening weeks of this campaign, and Jota's arrival in the team has highlighted that in many respects, as he has been a breath of fresh air with his hunger and energy.

Even the best teams go stale at times and it needs the injection of a new face to fire the engines, and Jota has done that for Liverpool.

I knew he was a good player at Wolves, but this guy has surpassed my expectations. He has proved once again that you don't need to sign players like Kylian Mbappe for silly money to get instant results.

Liverpool's transfer trading during Klopp's time as manager has been first class, and the £41m they spent on Jota already appears to be great business.

Klopp would have been hoping to have Thiago back in his midfielder today, but he is still out injured. It means that Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum have a huge role to play.

On the plus side, Joel Matip looks set to return and his experience will be useful against a City side that have been inconsistent in the opening weeks of the season.

Pep Guardiola's side miss Sergio Aguero when he is not leading their line, and they are under pressure today because they cannot afford to lose to Liverpool and fall eight points behind them, even though they have played a game less.

Defeat

From Liverpool's perspective, they need to use the memories of their 4-0 defeat against City at the back end of last season as inspiration, as it was an evening when they were embarrassed.

The Premier League title had been won a few days earlier and it was used as a partial excuse for the display. But this Liverpool team are far too good to surrender as they did that day, and Klopp will hope the defeat will sting them into a response.

If Liverpool win at the Etihad, it will well and truly banish the notion that Van Dijk's injury has destroyed their season, so all the pressure is on City in this game.

They dare not lose, while Liverpool may be happy enough to leave Manchester with a point heading into the latest international break.

This game represents a huge opportunity for Klopp and his players to remind their rivals that even without their main defender, this team of champions are not ready to surrender their crown any time soon.

I have been saying for some time that Firmino has become a problem for Liverpool

  • Man City v liverpool, Premier League, today, 4.30pm, Sky Sports

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