Like much of his Liverpool career, Diogo Jota‘s season had a little bit of everything.
Having missed pre-season with a hamstring injury, the forward was playing catch-up from the outset – and was forced to watch Liverpool’s uninspiring start from the sidelines.
His season began with a baptism of fire after being brought off the bench with 10 minutes of the Merseyside derby to play, with the Reds struggling for a meaningful breakthrough at Goodison Park.
He quickly worked his way back into Jurgen Klopp‘s plans and produced a remarkable hat-trick of assists away at Rangers in just a 17-minute cameo.
Things then became more difficult for both the team and the individual.
Just one week after Luis Diaz sustained horrific knee ligament damage that would keep him out until March, Jota picked up an injury of his own in the dying moments of a big 1-0 win at home to Man City.
A calf issue saw Liverpool’s forward options diminish within the blink of an eye as they slipped further and further away from the front-runners.
Diogo Jota, 2022/23
Started: 14 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 12
Unused sub: 0
Overall Season Rating: 6
Fighting a losing battle
Once again, Everton were the opponents for Jota’s return from injury as he was introduced in the second half of a 2-0 win over the neighbours.
Confidence was fragile following three league defeats in four, but as the Portuguese striker worked his way back to fitness and sharpness Liverpool showed signs of finding their feet.
A run of four league wins from five without conceding a goal was capped by a historic 7-0 win over Man United at Anfield.
His ability to play on the left of a front three as well as being the central striker gives him a crucial edge in what has become a competitive area of the pitch in Liverpool’s squad.
Jota was involved and showing signs of improvement with each appearance, but there was an overly persistent monkey on his back throughout.
Battering down the floodgates
What is that saying about London buses?
After a 372-day wait, Jota’s breakthrough finally came at Elland Road as he found the net twice in the space of 20 minutes during a 6-1 hammering of Leeds.
It was just what the doctor ordered, with the forward going on to score five times in four games to remind himself, as much as everyone else, what he remains capable of.
Klopp kept faith with Jota throughout his struggles in front of goal, knowing full well how deadly this man can be when he is in the groove.
It would have been easy to allow him to slip down the pecking order, as Darwin Nunez did towards the back end of the campaign, but the boss knew that his instincts hadn’t deserted him.
Even when he doesn’t start, the lad from Portugal has proven himself to be a valuable option off the bench.
Not once was he an unused substitute during 2022/23 and the three assists at Ibrox highlighted the impact he can have even in a condensed time period.
Liverpool have an embarrassment of riches up front thanks to high-profile signings in each of the last three transfer windows.
But Jota’s involvement in every single Premier League game since returning from his calf injury shows that minutes are always available when you are as clinical as he is.
Man for the big occasion
There is a strong case to be made that, despite the drought, Jota is in fact the best finisher at the club.
If you were to ask the manager who he would want a big chance to fall to in a decisive moment, few eyebrows would be raised if that was his answer.
When Lucas Moura carelessly handed the 26-year-old the ball seconds after Richarlison headed home an injury-time equaliser for Tottenham, everybody in the stadium but Jota was losing their heads as he calmly swept the ball beyond Fraser Forster.
It wasn’t the finish of a player who had just gone more than a year without scoring – it had the assurance of a forward who knows he still belongs.
The goal was by no means confirmation that Jota is at his best, but it was a defining moment in a blistering sprint to the finish that many wouldn’t have capitalised on.
Klopp has Diaz, Nunez, Mo Salah and Cody Gakpo to call upon next season, but his unrelenting trust in Jota throughout difficult moments suggests that only availability, rather than capability, will keep him out of the team in 2023/24.
As he enters his peak years, he will be hoping for a much-needed clean bill of health if he is to establish himself as first choice with the wealth of attacking talent the Reds now have.
Another crucial 12 months await.
Best moment: An last-gasp winner in front of the Kop after Tottenham had come from three goals behind to level the scoring.
Worst moment: Missing a glorious opportunity to break his duck during the 2-0 away win at Newcastle.
Role next season: Rotating with Diaz, Gakpo and Nunez among the front three.