If Jota wasn't injured, Reds could've been closer to the top: Enrique
Attacker scored 12 goals, but he was injured and out of action for 19 games
Despite the central defensive injury crisis that stymied their season, former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique believes the Reds could have performed better than they have done this campaign.
The 35-year-old former left-back, who spent five seasons at Anfield, said had attacker Diogo Jota not missed 19 games with a knee injury, the Reds "could've been closer to the top".
With five games to play, holders Liverpool sit seventh in the English Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, and are in danger of missing out on Champions League football next season.
Jota has impressed Enrique after scoring 12 goals in an injury-disrupted season since joining from Wolverhampton Wanderers for £40 million (S$74.1m) last September.
In his absence, the Reds failed to find the net in six of 17 domestic matches - which included four defeats by a one-goal margin and four draws - leaving many to wonder if the Reds could have been in the top four had he been available.
"Diogo Jota was very well known to me at Wolverhampton," Enrique told The New Paper via an e-mail interview arranged by Quorn, Liverpool's official sustainable protein partner.
"I know many people like (Adama) Traore there but he was my favourite, I didn't expect for him to settle in so well straight away.
"High-intensity pressing is an (attribute of an) ideal player for our style of play. Without his injury, we could've been closer to the top still."
Jota was just one casualty in a crowded Reds treatment room this season.
A report in March revealed that Liverpool's players have missed a league-high 1,029 days due to injury and illness.
Their frequent enforced changes in defence has been well-documented.
Virgil van Dijk has been out since last October with an anterior cruciate ligament problem, Joe Gomez injured a tendon in his left knee a month later while on England duty, and Joel Matip has been sidelined since January with ankle ligament damage.
With Fabinho and skipper Jordan Henderson taking turns to fill in at the back at one point, there was a void in midfield, coupled with a lack of spark up front.
But one man has continued to stand out.
Mohamed Salah - and his 29 goals this season - is the reason the Reds are even still in the hunt for a top-four spot, said Enrique.
"In my view, the reality is without Salah's goals, we wouldn't still be in touching distance of the top four.
"His quality is undoubted and despite a difficult season for the squad and their confidence, Salah has always been there and delivered goals and performances. One of the best in the world in his position."
Despite Juergen Klopp's side's struggles this season, Enrique - who won the League Cup and reached an FA Cup final with the Reds - is confident of a turnaround next season.
He said: "We've had a lot of changes at centre-back and lack of stability, van Dijk is one of the best in the world and Gomez and Matip are top EPL players too.
"Hopefully, they come back to their best again and (it will be) a massive boost for next season's campaign. We can fight for trophies again...
"Next season, I think depends on whether we're in the Champions League or Europa League. If neither, then we focus on just the EPL.
"But I really believe we can fight for every competition we're in with a full squad back, year-in, year-out."