Liverpool £ 45m ‘unbalancer’ key to next four games after Cristiano Ronaldo claim

If Liverpool are to complete an historic quadruple this season, they will no doubt encounter some bumps in the road along the way. Or, more specifically, delays on the runway.

The trip to Lisbon for the Champions League quarter-final has been fraught with travel issues for the Anfield faithful these past couple of days. Staff shortages at Manchester Airport have led to what has been described as “peak chaos” which has directly impacted hundreds of supporters trying to get over to the Portuguese capital.

Liverpool fans came into April anticipating travel issues after the Football Association’s decision not to move the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City to another venue when there are no trains running from the North West to London across Easter weekend. They were probably not ready for the mayhem that has ensued in their latest cross-continental journey, though.

Delays of up to three and four hours have been unwelcome but they have not dimmed the spirit of expectant followers as the chase for an unprecedented quartet of trophies goes on.

Reds fans, as they always do, have made themselves heard in Lisbon in recent days as they look forward to what is a third quarter-final appearance in the European Cup under Jurgen Klopp.

It is an agreeable tie too given Benfica are currently 15 points behind league leaders Porto who Liverpool dispatched 5-0 in Portugal back in the Autumn before a comfortable 2-0 win at Anfield in November. So a first visit to the Estadio da Luz since 2010 will hold little trepidation on Tuesday night.

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“Benfica, maybe two or three years ago, changed their policy,” says one source who works in Portuguese football. “They wanted to start spending more money instead of relying on younger players like before. They decided to invest in more experienced players on bigger salaries. They also spent a lot of money on new managers and now the squad is quite old.

“You see Benfica’s squad now and that is that. They have been very inconsistent and while it is a Champions League game and everything can happen, I think many are surprised that Benfica are at this [point of the competition] given the level they have been at all season [domestically].

“I look at Benfica’s squad and I don’t see young, talented players. They have a lot of experience like Jan Vertonghen and Nicolas Otamendi, but I don’t see [them challenging Liverpool]. You look at the squad there are no real young players.

“The normal thing is Liverpool win and go through against Benfica. At this moment, for me, in terms of producing young players, Porto and Sporting are ahead of Benfica.”

April has been spoken of, in less-than-hushed tones, as the month that will make or break Liverpool’s season, but perhaps the reality is slightly different. The next four weeks will merely keep Klopp’s team on course for what has the potential to be the most incredible run-ins of all times at Anfield and the busy month is littered with potential setbacks.

But it is these next four games against Benfica and Manchester City, across the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, that will likely have the greatest say and what is achievable going forward.

Key to those hopes going forward is Diogo Jota whose header in the 2-0 win at Watford on Saturday lunchtime was his 20th of the campaign. The Portugal international has made a habit of contributing big goals at important times this term. Ten of his 20 di lui have been openers while he has three equalisers among the biggest season haul of his career to date at the top level.

The win over Watford was Jota’s third goal in a row for the Reds, all of which have broken the deadlock to set Klopp’s side on the way to another victory. Arguably ahead of Roberto Firmino in the pecking order these days, the former Wolves man’s tally is only bettered by Mohamed Salah at Liverpool this season.

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He is just one of many reasons the quadruple chasers head to the Portuguese capital in a buoyant mood.

“Diogo Jota is a player of an extraordinary level,” says Julio Velazquez, a manager who knows Liverpool’s No. 20 well. “I’ve known him since he was very young and played at Pacos de Ferreira, before he even reached the first team.

“I’ve seen a lot of his games and he’s fantastic, an unbalancer who understands the game perfectly, who knows how to play and one that makes his colleagues play better. I really like him, the humility and character he has, his personality and the will he has to evolve and improve. “

At the age of 25, Jota has become a star for his national side in the last year or so, but Velazquez, who has previously worked in Portugal with Vitoria Setubal and Maritino, urges against placing too much pressure on the shoulders of the Liverpool man in the coming years as Portuguese football looks for a new leader in the post-Cristiano-Ronaldo-era.

“Diogo is a great player, but the comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo are not good for any player,” he says. “Because Cristiano is the paradigm of what perfection represents, along with Leo Messi.”


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