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Jota’s resurgence as Reds buck “fragility” trend – Last word on Liverpool 3-2 Forest

Liverpool made sure not to let Nottingham Forest walk away with any points at Anfield, although questionable defending did put that into jeopardy.

Another Diogo Jota double, plus a Mohamed Salah strike proved enough for Jurgen Klopp‘s men to ensure they ended the week with a full complement of points.

There were nervy moments throughout at Anfield as the Reds struggled to deal with Forest’s long throw-ins, which would have made for points dropped earlier in the season.

It was not the case this time, much to the delight of supporters.

Here, Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by Adam Beattie (@beatts94) and Aaron Cutler (@aaron_cutler) to discuss the win, another Jota brace and realistic European hopes.

 

Jota’s had a tough year but that’s four goals in two games, how important can he be in the final seven?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (R) celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

AARON: Goals paper over cracks so having another player amongst them will be important for the run-in. I don’t think enough has been made of Jota’s absence this year. He was sensational for large parts of 2021/22, where he had a habit of scoring in decisive moments.

It’s often forgotten but 11 of his 21 goals last season broke the deadlock. Another two drew Liverpool level in games they’d go on to draw.

Removing that threat has served to increase the pressure on the likes of Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, players still finding their feet in a red shirt.

JOANNA: It really has been a torrid year for Jota and coming back into a team that has been struggling will not have helped ease the pressure on his shoulders to contribute.

But what we’ve seen in the last two games is the poacher that you’ve mentioned there Aaron, someone capable of scoring the match-defining goals.

He has not set the world alight but I can only hope that between now and the end of the season we see a continued improvement in his overall play, all the while contributing to the scoresheet.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Monday, April 17, 2023: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (L) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the fifth goal during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

AARON: Jota has been labelled a ‘streaky’ player but his recent drought was simply the result of him getting back up to speed after a long lay-off.

With every game there have been signs of that sharpness returning and – for me – he’s one of the first names on the team sheet between now and the end of the campaign.

ADAM: I’d argue even at full fitness he had that ‘streaky’ element to him, which is not necessarily a bad thing for a forward because at his best he is one of the most clinical finishers in the league.

His second goal wasn’t taken by a player who looked short of confidence, I’ve got absolutely no doubt that he’ll continue to provide for us between now and the end of the season.

The drought he has had could kill a lesser-minded player’s self-belief, but he’s clearly got more about him than that and I hope he continues to flourish now.

 

What or who else impressed you?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

AARON: Trent was the standout once again. The second half was akin to a basketball game but before then he ran the show from that new hybrid role.

His range of passing is unbelievable, but the vision to spot those balls is also incredible. To me, he looks a player rejuvenated and that’s clear in his body language. If the weight has been lifted and he feels suddenly liberated, that can only serve us well.

It’s not just those deep-lying passes but surging runs which offer another dimension to the attack. I’m eager to see more in these last seven games.

A word too for Ibou Konate. It wasn’t his best performance by any stretch and his tussle with Taiwo Awoniyi descended into a WWE brawl on occasion.

Seldom will you see an opponent with the brute strength to pin the Frenchman like that but he stood up manfully and gave as good as he got. That’s worthy of praise.

ADAM: Agreed, Trent was a joy to watch and crucially it looks like he is enjoying it as much as we were from the stands.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool players line-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (L-R) captain Jordan Henderson, goalkeeper Alisson Becker, Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho', Ibrahima Konaté, Andy Robertson, Curtis Jones, Virgil van Dijk, Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He has got so much freedom and space to express himself and he has gone from having a spotlight shined on his deficiencies to looking comfortably the best player on the pitch.

Cody Gakpo deserves a mention as well, the manager referenced before the game that nobody can replicate the role Bobby Firmino has played in the squad but Gakpo’s interpretation of it looks really exciting already.

He looks so composed on the ball and aware of what is going on around him, it is really impressive for a player who is still only 23.

A lesson for some in not judging a new signing based on his first three games!

 

We’ve seen that dodgy defending before, but is there something to say about Liverpool still hanging on to the win?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

ADAM: I came away from the game more positive than I’d have been if we’d won 3-0, as strange as that sounds.

Those two equalisers were real setbacks and at stages this season we’d have allowed heads to drop and would have started feeling sorry for ourselves.

Both of the Forest goals were answered within the space of five minutes, which was really pleasing to see.

Defensively we do still look fragile at times, and Forest’s throw-ins caused us all manner of bother at times, but the reaction was promising and something we wouldn’t have seen earlier in the season.

JOANNA: There was definitely still a fragility there but as you say Adam, we would have allowed Forest to see us crumble if this game was earlier in the season.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (R) is challenged by Nottingham Forest's Taiwo Awoniyi during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There was something more to Liverpool this time, an energy and an attitude that was resistant to letting the lowly moments define the outcome.

I could do without the throw-in and set-piece nerves, especially with West Ham next up, but it is baby steps and emerging with all three points is a boost – even if we are talking about 19th-placed Forest.

AARON: As you guys have mentioned, of the many failings of Liverpool’s season their tendency to crumble in the face of any adversity is surely the most alarming. Thankfully, they seem to have bucked that trend in the last three games.

In different ways, they’ve overcome setbacks against each of Arsenal, Leeds and Forest.

The latter was incredibly direct and long throws in particular wreaked havoc. Of course, Liverpool need to deal with set-pieces better, Joanna and I both know what’s next on the horizon, a team known for them, but the fact we reset and edged back in front on three occasions is hugely encouraging.

Hopefully, that points to a corner being turned. Ugly wins have been in short supply. I’ll take another seven from this point onwards.

 

Realistically, how are we feeling about European hopes now…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp waves to the supporters after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

AARON: Sadly, I think Champions League qualification is out of reach. Defeat at Bournemouth proved the death knell on that front. Liverpool would need to be perfect from hereon in and rely on teams who have shown great consistency suddenly having an unlikely slump.

That said, it’s vitally important we secure European football of some description. If we can put any kind of run together, you’d hope that would be enough to clinch a Europa League spot.

Brighton could prove the fly in the ointment in that regard but next week will be telling. If we were to come away from West Ham unscathed and get the better of Spurs at Anfield, we’d certainly be in the driving seat.

The trouble is Liverpool have shown no evidence they can string a run of results together. There has been a definite improvement in the last fortnight but this win showed many of the same frailties remain.

The difference is they got over the line. Hopefully, that restores confidence and keeps us in the conversation at least. Having something to play for right up until that final weekend is all we can hope for.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's Andy Robertson prepares tp take a throw-in during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: It’s one of those ones where I’m not expecting anything, but hoping for the best.

This is what Liverpool does to you, they’ve given no reason to think we can go on an extended winning run – we’ve not won more than four league games on the bounce this season – but somehow here I am thinking maybe, just maybe.

I just want us to keep other teams accountable. We’ve not be able to so far but at least let’s ask the question and see what happens.

ADAM: I’m not willing to let wins over two relegation candidates shift my mindset on Europe too much, particularly given how unpredictable things have been this season.

I’ve got no real interest in looking at the league table until after Brentford, if we keep winning and are still in the conversation by that point then I might entertain the idea of parting with some of my emotional energy and going into the final few games with hope.

Let’s just ride this momentum while we’ve got it and see where it takes us.