Jamie Carragher’s assertion was clear following Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Arsenal at the weekend and Diogo Jota’s decisive display off the bench.
“He has to be almost one of the first names on the team sheet,” said the former Liverpool captain.
In the Reds’ biggest game of the season, Jurgen Klopp has heeded that advice.
The Portugal international returned to the Liverpool starting lineup for the clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final.
Roberto Firmino, so crucial over the past two years, so important to the side’s way of playing with his ability to create, to hold possession and close down opponents, was out.
Undoubtedly Klopp will point to the decision as mere rotation. But this was a changing of the guard.
Firmino’s goal threat hasn’t been as pronounced this season. Six goals in all, none in Europe.
The side has looked far more threatening when Jota, signed from Wolves in the summer, has been included.
“If you look for club and country this season, what he’s done for Portugal, he’s getting a goal or assist every 90 minutes and that shows the impact he’s had this season,” added Carragher.
At times both have been named alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane; but against Real Madrid, naming all four was never likely to be an option.
Ultimately, Firmino was the fall guy. He’s now been superseded by Jota, his all-round game no longer enough to fall back on when the goals aren’t flowing.
It’s become increasingly clear throughout the 2020-21 season that this is Liverpool’s way forwards.
Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak retained their spots in defence, a partnership that has impressed lately.
Fabinho has been outstanding in protecting them in recent weeks, back to his very best at the base of midfield; Liverpool’s “lighthouse” was imperious in North London.
Thiago dropped out with Naby Keita and Gini Wijnaldum included; the Dutchman, despite his contract issue, remains trusted by his manager and playing him in the ‘big’ games seems to be the only hope of persuading him to stay right now.
Real Madrid were without a host of their senior stars too – notably in defence.
Right-back Dani Carvajal has been missing through injury for some time, while club captain Sergio Ramos missed out on a reunion with Salah following the injury he suffered on international duty last week.
And news of Raphael Varane’s positive coronavirus test meant that the World Cup winner was also absent for the first leg at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
With Keylor Navas having departed for Paris Saint-Germain, it left only veteran Brazilian left-back Marcelo available of the starting back five from Los Blancos’ three-in-a-row Champions League triumphs, and he was only a substitute with Ferland Mendy preferred.
Marcelo is a hero in Madrid. Just as Firmino is at Liverpool. But now both are being eased aside for their clubs’ respective new eras.
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