It goes without saying that Liverpool are the epitome of a well-run elite football club.
But perhaps their level of competence is in danger of being taken for granted. Despite their owner’s inclination for stepping on more upturned rakes than Sideshow Bob, Liverpool have managed to keep track with Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City on the pitch.
Part of this is down to Jurgen Klopp. It’s harder to think of a more perfect alignment of club and manager than Klopp and Liverpool, both steeped in passion and gestures of wild emotion.
But the club should also be lauded for rebuilding their squad on the quiet.
It’s worth remembering that, before the start of the 2021-22 season, Liverpool weren’t regarded as title favourites. Both Chelsea and Manchester United, with their grand summer signings and deep squads, were widely tipped to challenge champions City.
That didn’t come to pass. While Chelsea failed to integrate Romelu Lukaku, and United struggled with the basics of football, Liverpool have gone from strength to strength. The quadruple – deep into April – remains a distinct possibility.
Now the Reds have arguably the best squad in the Premier League, helped by Klopp’s strategy of adding one or two players at a time to augment and eventually supplant those in the first XI.
This change in perception is largely down to one slender man: Luis Diaz.
Snatched from under Tottenham’s noses in January, Diaz has scored three Liverpool goals in his 15 games in England. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of his impact.
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The Colombia international has slotted straight into Liverpool’s side, wowing the Anfield crowd with his sleight-of-foot and a bigger range of tricks than Paul Daniels.
Liverpool have always been thrilling and entertaining under Klopp. They’ve always worked hard. Prime Roberto Firmino was – and sometimes still is – a classy operator. Mohamed Salah is absolutely lethal. Sadio Mane remains indomitable.
But Diaz has added something extra, the side helping of Colombian salsa next to Liverpool’s hearty bowl of scouse.
Yes, he’s effective – but he’s also piss-takingly brilliant. Rarely has a transfer made more sense.
Diaz showcased this ability during Liverpool’s latest tussle with City in the FA Cup semi-final. As supporters battled rare sunshine and not-so-rare train fuckery to witness the semi, the 25-year-old decided to give the Wembley crowd a show.
His first bit of impish showboating came with the Reds 2-0 up, Raheem Sterling becoming the unwitting victim of a flick so disgusting that the police immediately seized all evidence of it after the match.
Luckily we sourced one of the few remaining clips so you can glory in its depravity. Fernandinho was forced to cease all the nonsense by stopping Diaz in his tracks and hauling him down. Very uncharacteristic of the City skipper, if you ask us.
OH MY GOD LUIS DIAZ STOP THAT NOW pic.twitter.com/OgKYjeH388
— 🇨🇳 (@SSChanoolato) April 16, 2022
But Diaz wasn’t fazed. As City continued to look fatigued from their efforts in Madrid three days earlier, the Liverpool winger took that as his cue to torment his opponents further.
Mane had added a third by the time Liverpool’s devil incarnate collected possession jinked his way past Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva to the whoops of the supporters at Anfield South.
It’s worth noting the technique here. Finding himself in a packed centre circle, Diaz shifted the ball between his left and right foot with the speed of a Vegas card dealer to leave the City pair with cartoon stars above their heads.
With skills like this, it’s no wonder that Diaz has captured the imagination already. He is – pardon the cliche – almost worth the admission fee alone.
I LOVE DIAZ😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/I8XDKfw4bt
— 🇦🇷. (@tashaaa2000) April 16, 2022
After Liverpool’s 3-2 victory, sending them into an FA Cup final with Chelsea next month, pundits were falling over themselves to praise the Colombian.
“It’s so effortless for him, isn’t it?” said Danny Murphy on Match of the Day on Saturday evening.
“He plays free from fear. Physically capable and quick. Both ways. He’s more than willing to work. And running in behind when they have got the ball. And helping Robertson out when Sterling went past him. It’s exactly what Klopp wants from his wide men.
“But to walk into a club like Liverpool and just be able to have the self-belief, also mid-season. To play with the type of players he is playing with, the best in Europe, he’s not been intimidated at all.”
Jamie Carragher took a more holistic approach earlier in the week, telling CBS Sports: “He’s come in and he is the first person who has ever put Sadio Mane, in the last four or five years, under real pressure for his position.
“He has been a revelation since he has come in. He really has.”
Carragher touched upon an extremely valid point. While Salah’s contract situation has dominated the headlines, Mane’s is also due to expire in June 2023. They have already found his replacement.
And, as the season approaches its climax, Diaz has shown he’s the joker in the pack that can help this Liverpool side achieve immortality.
By Michael Lee