BERGAMO, Italy — One of the most potent front threes in world soccer might be in for a change.
Diogo Jota continued his fine scoring streak with a hat trick as Liverpool thrashed Atalanta 5-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday. The 23-year-old strengthened his case for a regular spot in the starting lineup alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané instead of the misfiring Roberto Firmino.
Jota, who signed from Wolverhampton in September for a reported fee of 41 million pounds ($52 million), took his tally to six goals in his last four matches and has seven this season compared to Firmino's solitary goal this campaign.
It is an incredible start to his Liverpool career, especially for a player who wasn't even a regular first-choice player at Wolves.
But while Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp was full of praise for Jota, he was quick to leap to Firmino's defence .
“The world is sometimes a really bad place that in the moment when someone is shining we speak immediately of a player who played for us it feels like 500 games in a row. We would not be in the Champions League if Bobby Firmino would not be with us,” said Klopp, who has used Firmino more than any other player in his squad since arriving five years ago.
“For a lot of people in the world if you ask them ‘what makes Liverpool something special’ they would say the way Bobby Firmino is playing ... Tonight Diogo played a super, super game but that says nothing about Bobby.”
It was the first time Liverpool has won its opening three Champions League matches and saw Klopp’s side extend its lead at the top of Group D. Liverpool is five points above Atalanta and Ajax, which won 2-1 at Midtjylland.
“It was a tough defeat. We were inferior in many aspects,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said. “We never managed to deal with them and there was a great disparity. We need to reflect on this.”
Jota was chosen alongside Salah and Mané, with Firmino dropped to the bench ahead of Sunday's trip to Manchester City in the Premier League.
The Portuguese forward almost gave Liverpool the lead within two minutes as he waltzed past Hans Hateboer — who had to pass a late fitness test — but his angled drive was smothered by Atalanta goalkeeper Marco Sportiello.
The visitors had several other chances before breaking the deadlock in the 16th minute when Jota sprung the offside trap to run onto a through-ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold, held off José Luis Palomino and dinked the ball over Sportiello.
Atalanta almost levelled immediately as Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker spilled Luis Muriel's strike before reaching back to grab the loose ball.
Jota doubled his and Liverpool’s tally in the 33rd as he hooked down a ball from Joe Gomez and swiveled to fire into the bottom left corner.
Atalanta had come back from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Ajax last week but three goals in seven minutes early in the second half put paid to any hopes of a similar comeback.
First, Atalanta's corner was cleared by Curtis Jones and Salah ran from inside his own half before firing into the top left corner.
Salah then turned provider to set up Mané who chipped Sportiello.
Jota completed his hat trick in the 54th following another devastating counter-attack. He rounded Sportiello and deposited into the empty net.
The 23-year-old Jota has scored three hat tricks in his last eight European matches, having netted two hat tricks for Wolves in the Europa League last season.
Atalanta almost got one back but Duván Zapata’s curled effort came off the inside of the right post.
Zapata, who had scored three goals in his previous two Champions League matches, also had a stoppage-time goal ruled out for offside.
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Daniella Matar, The Associated Press