Luis Diaz has provided Liverpool with a timely glimmer of light ahead of the climax to a gloomy season by taking a significant step in his comeback during the international break.
The Colombian spent last week training with the club’s academy players in anticipation of rejoining the seniors ahead of this weekend’s trip to Manchester City. Diaz is expected to begin full training over the next few days.
If those sessions go to plan there is a chance the 26-year-old will be part of the travelling squad against the champions. It may be too soon to feature in the fixture, but the closer Diaz is to a return the greater Liverpool’s top-four prospects.
It is a measure of how much Liverpool have missed Diaz that if his imminent comeback inspires a late rally towards Champions League qualification, he may yet emerge as the club’s player of the year.
If that smacks of hyperbole given Diaz has been out for the past six months and only played 615 minutes of Premier League football this season, consider this: despite Diaz’s limited action, only five Liverpool players have scored more Premier League goals than him this season, and only four team-mates have registered more assists.
Such numbers are a measure of how many Liverpool players have toiled in this campaign, but also demonstrate what the team lost when the winger limped off with a knee injury against Arsenal last October. The game was delicately poised between two well-matched teams when Diaz shone in the first half at the Emirates six months ago. The teams have been heading in different directions ever since, Arsenal leading the title race while Liverpool are sixth.
The South American’s form was streets ahead of his team-mates’ prior to injury. Other than goalkeeper Alisson he was the only member of Jurgen Klopp’s side to start the season maintaining the high standards by which he finished last.
The return game against Arsenal on Easter Sunday may be a more realistic comeback date for Diaz. Klopp will be cautious before unleashing him against City so soon after his recovery, especially after the last experience when a promised return was aborted.
Diaz was initially due back in December, only to complain of more soreness in his knee at the club’s winter training camp in Dubai.
Diaz’s reaction to joining full training will determine how soon he can join the matchday squad. However, the option of including him in the travelling party would be hugely significant for the player and club before the Premier League run-in.
Speaking earlier this month, Klopp did not disguise how influential he considered Diaz’s absence.
“The two sessions he had with us in Dubai in the training camp, it was like, ‘Oh my God, how good is that?’ Then he was injured again,” said the manager, lamenting the setback.
“When he is back he will be really good and very impactful, of course. That is clear. How quickly, I don’t know. We have to see. That’s the big challenge in these moments. There’s no time for being patient but you have to be patient.
“I’m positive about him that there’s a good chance for him to have a real impact in 10, 11, 12 games maybe. We will see how long it exactly takes.”
There are many reasons for Liverpool falling so far behind in this trophyless season and injuries are a natural hazard for any club. But there is no doubt that Diaz has cost Liverpool significant points. Had he been fit, it is more likely Liverpool would be playing to keep their top-four place rather than playing catch-up. If Diaz can reproduce the form he has demonstrated for the club so far, Liverpool will be a different proposition in their remaining games.