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Liverpool are set to receive a timely injury boost with Diogo Jota to return to full first team training this week.
The Portuguese international is one of several senior players who has been sorely missed as the champions’ title bid has gone from one calamitous result to another, Jurgen Klopp’s side now five points off the top four.
Results have especially deteriorated since Jota was injured in the final Champions League group game against Midtjylland on December 9. He had scored nine goals in his first 17 Liverpool appearances.
Having been top of the league and in a comfortable position before Christmas, Klopp’s side has won just four of their 14 league games since Jota’s injury, including six defeats. Aside from Mohamed Salah, they have also struggled to replicate their usual proficiency in front of goal.
Jota will need several training sessions before Klopp considers him for first team action again. At the moment, he is pencilled in to join full training on Wednesday. There were fears he might be out longer when he suffered a knee injury, but he has been working with club physio Chris Morgan to get back sooner than anticipated.
Liverpool next play on Sunday against Sheffield United. In normal circumstances that would be considered too soon for his return after a two month lay-off with Chelsea’s visit to Anfield the following week looking a more realistic prospect.
Jota nears his return as Klopp adjusts to the likely loss of another key player, Jordan Henderson, for the next few weeks. Henderson is undergoing a scan on Monday amid fears he will be missing for a while with a groin problem, further limiting the manager’s central defensive options.
Not only is Klopp missing his first choice defenders, now the emergency ones are in the treatment room, too.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are preparing for the likelihood of their second leg, Champions League round of sixteen tie being played on a neutral ground.
Unless there is a chance of policy by the German government regarding the length of time overseas travellers arriving to their country must spend in quarantine, RB Leipzig will not be expected to fly to England for the return game on March 10.
The other options are a venue closer to England, possibly in Holland or Belgium, or another trip to Budapest where Liverpool won the first leg 2-0.
A decision will be delayed until as late as possible, but - at this stage - it is considered unlikely the game will be at Anfield.
Why has Jota been such a big miss for Liverpool?
Liverpool have been engaging in a most unwanted rotation policy this season based around the same question.
“Which injured player are they most missing this week?”
Virgil van Dijk’s absence tops the leaderboard in terms of most detrimental to the season's ambitions, but Jota is close behind.
Jota has only made 17 appearances since his arrival from Wolverhampton Wanderers, but he remains the club’s third top goalscorer this season despite having not played since mid-December, averaging fewer minutes per goal than Salah and Sadio Mane.
How Jurgen Klopp must look wistfully at those early season weeks when his impending ‘headache’ was where to fit Jota into his side without disrupting his tried-and-trusted front three.
Best of luck to anyone quizzing the Liverpool manager on that ‘problem’ when everyone is fit, the manager sure to politely offer a reminder that deciding which class player to leave out is infinitely more desirable to wondering how long it will be before they are off the crutches.
Jota was thriving so much before his knee injury, the player comparisons were becoming more lavish by the week. He demonstrated many elite qualities - pressing high and scoring every type of goal - the most complimentary was that he had begun his Anfield career a little like Luis Suarez minus the vampire imitations. Of course, it was premature to suggest he will become that good, but the technical excellence was immediately visible on the biggest stage. Jota’s Champions League hat-trick in Atalanta was especially Suarez-esque.
More than his goals, Jota refreshed and revitalised the front three. He allowed Klopp to rest his forwards without losing energy upfront. He added another dimension which, for a couple of weeks, made a title challenging team look like it might get better. The results in his absence speak for themselves.
Jota will return to a different world in trying to help get back in the top four rather than the title race. If the striker can rediscover his early form, Klopp will welcome back what he has been missing all season. A chance to pick a line-up based on form and suitability rather than fitness.