Liverpool’s front three has picked itself for the best part of four years under Jurgen Klopp.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have led Liverpool to back-to-back Champions League finals, winning one, and two of the best Premier League points tallies in history, winning one.
They have been the untouchables, along with Virgil Van Dijk, until now.
Salah and Mane have maintained their positions through world class performances against all levels of opposition. Firmino however, has seemingly kept his place under the guise that he is a key part of the system.
Klopp has employed a 4-3-3 formation for much of his time at Anfield, with Firmino as the false 9 allowing extra space for Salah and Mane to drive into to score their goals. But over the last 18 months or so, his performances have been significantly poorer than previously.
With Diogo Jota arriving from Wolves during the summer window, many expected him to provide competition and strength in depth for the champions. Since the start of the season though, Jota has done nothing but impress.
He scored on his Premier League debut in the win against Arsenal before a string of substitute appearances. He then scored the winner against Sheffield United, a goal in the Champions League against Midtjtylland followed by the winner against West Ham United.
All of this led to him earning a start in midweek against the dangerous Atalanta side, where he lead the line in Firmino’s central position and came away with a hat-trick before being substituted after 65 minutes.
So with Manchester City at The Etihad Stadium on Sunday to come, does Klopp go with tried and tested or new and shiny?
There are pros and cons for both players. The obvious pros for Jota’s inclusion are that he is in phenomenal form currently. He has proven he can line-up centrally with Mane and Salah either side of him and they can all get on the scoresheet together. His pace is an added threat for defences to worry about, especially against a high-line.
For Firmino, his experience in the team and his record against big clubs is impressive. He has five goals and five assists in 14 appearances against Man City and we’ve seen Klopp’s side completely dominate against Guardiola’s over recent years, so much so that Guardiola often changes his shape and style for the games.
Personally, despite many fans calling for Jota to start, I’d go with Firmino for this one.
The Brazilian often drops deep enough into midfield that he helps Liverpool’s runners win the battle against the possession-heavy Man City side. They tend to outnumber City’s three midfielders and his technical ability allows him to play a key role in helping Salah and Mane cause problems up front.
It’s also the added bonus that should the game not be going the way of Liverpool with Firmino from the start, Jota has proven he can make an impact off the bench to change games. Should Jota start and Liverpool need something, Firmino’s style is unlikely to have so much of an impact.
As Klopp said after the Atalanta game, good performances are not a headache for managers. He has options, strength in depth and the ability to change the game from his bench if needed now for a game that will likely have some kind of impact on any title race come May.