Sadio Mané's Absence Against Aston Villa Means it's Diogo Jota's Time to Shine

When it was announced late on Friday evening that Sadio Mané had become the second Liverpool first-team player to contract COVID-19 in a matter of days, there were two prevalent concerns.

In no particular order, they were: get well soon, and how the bloody hell are we going to do without him?

Luckily enough, the Reds' strange pre-emptive sense of transfer timing has struck again. A couple of weeks without the driving force of Mané is no longer the derailing disaster it once might have been, because now there is some adequate backup waiting in the wings.

Diogo Jota's 86 or so minutes against Arsenal over the past week have shown just why securing a player of his ilk was one of the club's priorities this summer. Divock Origi can be counted on for a big performance or four every season, but Liverpool needed someone with comparable attributes to Mané and Mohamed Salah, capable of wriggling out of tight spaces and exploding past opposition defenders in the same way.

There was a moment in Thursday's Carabao Cup tie that showed what they have been missing in that regard. Jota, coming in off the right, took a long diagonal on his chest so deftly and decisively that it sat Sead Kolasinac on his backside. Then he brought the ball inside and got his shot away in the blink of an eye.

It came just three days after his first goal for the club, an instinctive effort from the edge of the box, releasing the ball so soon after it came to him that it didn't even get the chance to touch the ground.

He's on his way, but now the training wheels are off. Starting at Villa Park on Sunday evening, Jota now has to prove he can bring his flashes of brilliance to the fore on a consistent basis so that Mané, or Salah should the time come, can afford a week or two off.

He should start at Aston Villa. Despite being at the club for less than two weeks, he has already appeared more for them this season than Origi, who is yet to be used in a league game in 2020/21. Takumi Minamino - rapidly morphing into specialist cover for Roberto Firmino - doesn't seem fancied out wide.

Jota's pace and deceptive power on the break will be vital in taking apart a team who are high on confidence after starting the season like a house on fire. Though they have only played twice in the league, Dean Smith's team have a 100% record and are yet to concede a goal, suggesting last season's defensive struggles are behind them.

A potential duel with Matty Cash could prove to be the narrative of the match. Villa's new right-back, one of the outstanding players in the Championship last season, has made an impact with his own dynamic displays, and while he might be relieved it's not Mané he will face on Sunday, the unmarkable Jota should give him plenty to think about.

Still answering the questions asked of them towards the end of last season, Liverpool are trying to prove they remain the unrelenting monster that charged to the title last term. Circumstances mean Jota can now contribute to that, and prove that one of their glaring weaknesses - a lack of depth in the final third - has now been eradicated.

Mané will be back and firing, if not for the Everton game in two weeks, then surely for the return to Champions League action. Until then, all eyes are on his deputy, who might not have expected such an opportunity this early, but will have to make it count.

Source : 90min