WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORIES
Diogo Jota: Very good
The incumbent Roberto Firmino has gone virtually uncontested in his role as centre-forward in recent years, but that position has now emerged as a key battleground at Liverpool because of one Diogo Jota.
Effective off the bench, devastating from the start. Jota is a player.
The forward’s hat-trick helped Liverpool cruise to a 5-0 victory at Atalanta on Tuesday night in a performance that perhaps everyone in red loved except for Firmino, who is seeing his regular starting role getting more unlikely as Jota’s form gets, well, Jota and Jota.
Improving on Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Firmino as a front three seemed a near-impossible task, but Jota has not been fazed by his mission since joining from Wolves, and Jurgen Klopp has not been reaching for the aspirin either.
- Opinion: Firmino needs to deliver after Jota's stunning impact
- Klopp: No headaches over Jota, Firmino selection
- Jota scores hat-trick as Liverpool thrash Atalanta
“Good performances never give me a headache!” he told his post-match press conference. “Tonight the decision was clear, it made sense first of all to use the good shape Diogo was in, and secondly because of the way Atalanta plays and defends, we should use the skillset of Diogo to help us.
“The world is sometimes a bad place, that in the moment when somebody is shining we immediately speak about another player who played what feels like 500 games in a row. Without Bobby Firmino, we would not be in the Champions League even.
"He will be in the team, and for a lot of people in the world if you ask them ‘what makes Liverpool special?’ they would say ‘the way Bobby Firmino is playing’.
“For us it is important that we have more than 11. Tonight, Diogo played a super, super game but that says nothing about Bobby, and has nothing to do with me causing headaches. I am more than happy that the boys played like they played tonight.”
Who exactly should start against Manchester City on Sunday remains, therefore, a mystery, but given votes are the flavour of the week – in the spirit of things cast your ballot below!
Man City: Also good
We’re set up perfectly for Manchester City v Liverpool on Sunday after the former also recorded a fine victory in the Champions League last night.
Sergio Aguero remains an injury doubt for the crucial Premier League match but Pep Guardiola will be thanking the Lord he has Gabriel Jesus back after the striker came off the bench to score in the 3-0 win over Olympiacos.
Of course you have a better chance of calling which way each remaining US state will go than predicting Guardiola’s line-up come Sunday, but in Ferran Torres the City boss also has another viable option up front.
Indeed, City’s bench is the envy of clubs the continent over. Even though Liverpool now have Firmino or Jota to call on off the bench, you have to wonder just how important City’s strength in depth will be come what March, April and May.
Sergio Ramos: ‘Not bad’
That’s in Sergio Ramos’ own words, with the Real Madrid captain and defender reaching, remarkably, 100 goals for the club when scoring in the 3-2 win over Inter.
"It's not bad," Ramos said, having reached a century at Real's training ground.
"Individual records are secondary, but you like hitting them and as long as they keep on helping the side win, hopefully I can get a few more.”
It is an incredible landmark for any player to hit, never mind a defender. Yes he takes penalties, but he’s not bad at the other stuff either and it all makes for one of the best defenders of his generation. Scrap defenders, change that to players. Gary’s right.
IN OTHER NEWS
Maradona undergoes successful brain surgery
Just days after turning 60, Diego Maradona has undergone successful brain surgery after suffering from anaemia and dehydration.
"I was able to evacuate the hematoma successfully and Diego tolerated the surgery very well," said Leopoldo Luque, Maradona's neurosurgeon and personal physician.
"The steps now are observation, but it is controlled. It will depend on how he does. It is not highly complex, but it is still brain surgery."
One to keep an eye on, but here’s hoping he’s on the road to recovery.
Okay, okay, this was doing the rounds on his 60th birthday, but if you need a two-minute distraction from news elsewhere, then just hit play again. You won’t regret it. Oh, and sound on.
Like most 17-year-olds, Jude Bellingham hasn’t mastered the art of cooking for himself just yet. 'Not a chance mate,' exclaims the Borussia Dortmund midfielder in his broad Brummie accent. 'I’m getting food from the club at the minute and my mum’s helping me out with all that kind of stuff. That’s something I need to learn' …
The excellent Ed Aarons of the Guardian spoke to emerging talent Jude Bellingham about his decision to choose Borussia Dortmund ahead of Manchester United.
More Champions League! And we’ll have live updates tonight of Basaksehir v Manchester United (17:55), Chelsea v Rennes (20:00), Barcelona v Dynamo Kiev (20:00) and RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain (20:00).