Liverpool have a real opportunity to pile the pressure on Manchester City following their rare blip – with pressure on their new “world-class” talisman Diogo Jota to deliver
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Liverpool’s tricky trip to face Crystal Palace was already shaping up to be their biggest Premier League encounter of the season – but the ante was upped before a ball was even kicked after Manchester City were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton on Saturday night.
City’s unexpected stutter means that Liverpool have a chance to eat up a sizeable chunk of the 12-point gap that currently separates them from the reigning champions at the summit of the league.
The Reds should arrive in the capital in a buoyant mood after they dispatched Arsenal with ease to book their spot in the Carabao Cup final.
And they have seemingly found a new talisman in the absence of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah following Diogo Jota’s match-winning double in midweek.
Liverpool will be looking to him to lead the way again, just days after Jurgen Klopp declared the the former Wolves ace had evolved into a “world-class” striker.
Join the debate! Do you agree with Klopp – is Jota world-class? Let us know here.
“We scored two wonderful goals, Diogo Jota on fire,” Klopp said after the Reds booked their ticket to Wembley in midweek.
“We were completely convinced when he arrived at the club he would help us massively. Since he is here he has made another step, he has turned into a really world-class striker.
“Mentality mixed with quality is the reason we signed him. Of course he scored two goals, he is incredibly important to us, so it is that mix of his skills that is really exciting. He is in good shape as well and long may it continue.”
While Jota didn’t exactly set Anfield ablaze last year, he’s starting to make his £45m transfer fee look like a snip after netting 14 times in 27 games this term.
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It seemed unrealistic for Liverpool to not only sign a striker willing to play second fiddle to their elite attacking trio of Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino, but to then go one further and break up that formidable trifecta.
But fast forward 12 months, and Jota has effectively pulled off mission impossible and done just that.
He must surely be just as untouchable as Mane, Salah and other names such as Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
While some may argue that Klopp’s world-class tag is slightly wide of the mark, it is worth bearing in mind that Jota has stepped up to keep Liverpool’s title bid alive in the absence of Mane and Salah.
The Portuguese hotshot has been in red-hot form, with his midweek double at the Emirates taking his tally to five strikes in his last seven appearances.
And Sunday’s clash at Crystal Palace presents Jota with the perfect opportunity to continue that goalscoring streak and vindicate Klopp’s gushing verdict.
After City’s rare mishap, the Reds won’t have a better chance this season to cut the gap between them and Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side.
Of course, that’s easier said than done – and Liverpool fans will be all too aware of the perils that a trip to Selhurst Park can bring with haunting memories from May 2014.
But all of a sudden, the Reds trip to south London is by far their most important game of the season.
They need their big-game players to step up – and right now, there is no more crucial player for Liverpool than Jota in the available squad.
The likes of Salah and Mane have delivered on the grand stage countless times over the past few years to lead the Reds to both domestic and European glory.
That’s not really a surprise; world-class players are expected to deliver in the key moments in front of the global audience.
If Jota can replicate his absent team-mates and inspire the Reds to a crucial victory at Selhurst Park, then there won’t be many questioning his spot in the team once Salah and Mane are back in the country or Klopp’s lavish praise.
He’s already proven he’s capable of doing so after his Carabao Cup heroics. But it is the Premier League title that Liverpool and their fans really crave after ending 30 years of hurt.
The Reds are desperate to reclaim their domestic crown – and a win against Palace just 24 hours after City’s rare off day on the South Coast could help reignite Liverpool’s title charge.
It is down to their new “world-class” talisman Jota now to provide the spark.
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