The January transfer market has often been cast as a place where desperate clubs trade in a bid to salvage their seasons.
Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, used to question its value, once saying “all the big transfers happen in the summer.”
Liverpool might beg to differ.
The midseason arrival of Luis Diaz is a major factor behind the English club’s ability to maintain its improbable charge toward an unprecedented quadruple of major trophies.
And nowhere was this exemplified more than in the Champions League semifinals on Tuesday.
For once, Liverpool was in trouble, 2-0 down at halftime and playing so badly that when manager Jurgen Klopp asked his assistant, Peter Krawietz, to find an example of the players following pre-game tactical instructions, the reply was: “I can’t find one.”
The sprightly Colombia winger brought energy to Liverpool, getting the team on the front foot with his direct running and incisiveness early in the second half. He scored one of three goals in a 12-minute span to turn the match around as the Reds won 3-2 and advanced, 5-2 on aggregate, to a third Champions League final in five years.
The outlay of 45 million euros ($50 million) to bring Diaz from Porto is looking like a bargain.
“You don’t expect miracles immediately from these kind of players,” Klopp has said, referring to January signings like Diaz. “But he is not far away from doing exactly that.”
It isn’t just what Diaz is doing on and off the ball — his work rate is as impressive as his wonderful first touch and trickery — but also how his introduction to the side is impacting his teammates.
With Diaz becoming increasingly first choice on the left wing, Sadio Mane has been pushed inside into more of a mobile center forward and is in his best spell of the season. Indeed, Diaz and Mane are outshining Mohamed Salah, the most celebrated member of Liverpool’s front three and the team’s top scorer this season.
Andrew Robertson, who plays as an attacking left back behind Diaz, also is making the most of the space created by Diaz occupying defenders.
Diaz’s energy is infectious, too. He seems an ideal fit for a high-pressing, hard-running approach favored by Klopp.
“I was talking to James Milner about the new lad, Diaz. and he said within seconds he was just up to speed,” former Liverpool striker Michael Owen told BT Sport. “He watched, he looked around, as soon as he went down in training he was up and closing down.
“He said he was just a Liverpool player straightaway, from the first training session.”
Certainly Diaz's full debut, against Leicester at Anfield on Feb. 10, was one to savor, with some of his touches and flicks eliciting a “wow” from Liverpool fans.
Diaz is an entertainer. He brought down one long pass to him during the recent Merseyside derby against Everton with the instep of his right foot that he had tucked behind his left leg. For the clinching second goal that day, it was his acrobatic scissor kick that was turned in by Divock Origi.
A week earlier, Diaz had tormented Manchester City in a brilliant first-half display in Liverpool’s 3-2 win in the FA Cup semifinals and then scored the opener in a 4-0 victory over Manchester United in the league a few days later.
Diaz’s rise has coincided with a slight dip in performance by Diogo Jota, the Portugal forward whose arrival at the start of the 2020-21 season finally broke up the long-established front three of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Firmino, valued so highly by Klopp for his work rate, might now be down to No. 5 attacker at Liverpool such is the strength in depth in the squad.
The 25-year-old Diaz will finish this season having played more than 60 matches for club and country, beginning with his three appearances for Colombia at the Copa America in July.
He already has a League Cup winner’s medal — having started the final against Chelsea that Liverpool won on penalties in February — and is highly likely to now start against Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 14 and the Champions League final on May 28. And let’s not forget Liverpool is challenging for the Premier League title, too, with Klopp’s team a point behind City with four games left.
Liverpool is on the verge of delivering possibly the greatest season ever by a European club and Diaz, who has been at Anfield for less than four months, is at the heart of it.
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press