A cursory glance throughout the current Liverpool setup shows an unmistakable influence of the Portuguese.
From elite-development coach, Vitor Matos, to assistant boss Pep Lijnders – who both spent time at the biggest club in the country, in Porto – through soon-to-be sporting director Julian Ward, whose previous jobs have seen him work as the head of analysis for the Portuguese FA between 2008-10, the Reds’ well-oiled machine owes a lot to the Iberian nation.
That extends to the dressing room too where Diogo Jota and the Brazilian trio of Roberto Firmino, Alisson Becker and Fabinho have all helped new arrival Luis Diaz settle through their mother tongue following the Colombia international’s £ 50m move from Porto at the end of January.
Language barriers remain something of an issue, Jurgen Klopp admitted in his pre-match press conference on Monday, but the former Porto man has had few problems getting the message from his manager so far.
It was the signing of Diaz, in the closing stages of the winter window, that seemingly altered perceptions of what is possible for Klopp’s Liverpool this season.
Rather than seeing their campaign fall away due to the absence of Mohamed Salah, Naby Keita and Sadio Mane, because of their involvement in the Africa Cup of Nations, the Reds rallied after the 2-2 draw at Chelsea at the start of the year.
A run of just one defeat of 19 games since – an inconsequential loss to Inter at Anfield in the Champions League – has emboldened everyone at Anfield to believe that this could be their year. Their year in every competition, as it goes.
Diaz has been central to the renewed belief, hitting the ground running at quite the pace that has many eagerly anticipating what might be possible of the 25-year-old once he has a full pre-season to fall back on Liverpool.
His man-of-the-match performance in the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea showed that Diaz has a flair for the big games and with Klopp’s men going for the lot between now and the end of May, the sizeable fixtures will only continue to come .
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“Luis Diaz is a world-class player, there is no doubt about it,” says Julio Velazquez, a manager with decades of experience that includes stints with Villarreal, Udinese and Real Betis. Velazquez has spent the last few years of his career in Portuguese football with Vitoria Setubal and Maritimo and watched on from close quarters as Diaz become the third big export out of the country in recent years behind Joao Felix (£ 113m to Atletico Madrid) and Bruno Fernandes (£ 70m to Manchester United).
“Luis is at an extraordinary level, he can play in any top team in European football, and he was a player that was in the top five of the Portuguese league. He was one of the most important in the championship. He’s someone who can solve a game, he very strong in one-on-one situations with a lot of ability to hurt the opponent and fantastic in the last third of the pitch. He makes the difference. “
One of the key aspects behind the decision to sign Diaz was a type of playing style that is not too dissimilar to how Klopp likes to operate up front. A hard-working presser with tonnes of ability in possession, the Colombian, to quote 2005 Champions League winner Luis Garcia, “looks like he was born to play for Liverpool.”
Velazquez adds: “In my opinion he hasn’t reached his peak yet. He’s still very young, he has a lot of ability, and some people who know him well tell me that he also has those qualities at a human level, which is also very important for him to evolve and have the hunger to improve more and more . From my point of view, there is no doubt that he has not yet reached the peak of his capabilities di lui and he can improve in all aspects. “
If there’s one team who will know all about Diaz’s potential threat, however, it is Porto’s historic rivals Benfica and Liverpool’s Champions League quarter-final opponents will be more versed in dealing with the talents of the Reds’ new man than any other team he has come up against during his fledgling days at Anfield.
“I think Benfica will have analyzed Liverpool’s team very well, and for them the most important thing will be to try to counter the collective and try to prevent the potential of the English team from being translated on the pitch” Velazquez says in a chat with the ECHO.
“Of course, there are individual players in Liverpool’s team that Benfica will have to take into account, and Luis Diaz is one of them, but I would say that the Portuguese team will have to face the opponent through a collective perspective.
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“Benfica is a top team, always fighting to win the domestic competitions, both the championship and the cups. At European level it tries to do the best it can because it’s a big club with a spectacular fan base but then it’s a team that, like always happens, goes through different moments and cycles.
“Recently, the club has changed its president, it is in a difficult situation in the championship, but we must appreciate what it has done in the Champions League.
“Not just any team reaches the quarter-finals and that says a lot about Benfica. At the moment, they have a good balance between younger and more experienced players and I think they are a very interesting team. However, in this knockout stage, Liverpool are the favorites and Benfica have nothing to lose and everything to gain. “
And what of managing in England for Velazquez? Having coached in Spain, Portugal and Italy during a varied career, would the 40-year-old consider another country to his CV di lui?
“Regarding my career, I’m waiting for the right project,” he says. “With a lot of desire to work, traveling a lot and watching many football matches, reading and analyzing different teams and different projects. Obviously England would be an extraordinary place to work in, it’s a context that I know well, where I lived for some time, and it’s a dream for any coach to have that opportunity. “