Liverpool have boosted their attacking options with the signing of Diogo Jota from Wolverhampton Wanderers in a deal reportedly worth £45m.
The Reds had spent much of the summer transfer window watching their rivals add to their respective squads while only signing left-back Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos. But the past few days have seen Liverpool spring into life with Jota following Thiago – who produced a typically composed display against Chelsea – to Anfield.
In Jota, Jurgen Klopp has signed an exciting winger who was such a key part of Wolves’ return to the Premier League and subsequent Europa League journey.
Joining initially on loan from Atletico Madrid in 2017, while Wolves were in the Championship, Jota played a total of 131 games across three years at the Midlands club, scoring 44 goals. Despite being recognised as a left-winger, the 23-year-old did the most damage when paired centrally alongside Raul Jimenez in the Wolves attack, benefitting from the 3-5-2 system used by Nuno Espirito Santo.
But, at Liverpool, Jota has a fight on his hands to secure regular football given the strength of their front three.
Where does Jota fit in at Liverpool?
Some signings are often accompanied by fans drawing up theoretical line-ups to try and see how their new player would fit into their squad, and how the new-look starting XI will turn out. But with Jota it’s different. Similar to Xherdan Shaqiri’s move two seasons ago, Jota arrives at Liverpool with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane standing in his way on the wings. However, Jota will want to have a better Liverpool career than Shaqiri has had so far.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said of Jota’s signing: “He’s 23 years old, still far away from being kind of a finished article, so much potential. He has the speed, he can combine, can defend, can press.
“It makes it just more unpredictable and gives us real options for different systems because he can play pretty much all three positions up front in a 4-3-3, if we play with four midfielders he can play both wings.”
Although last season was Jota’s least productive league campaign since his move to Wolves in terms of goals and assists, the Portuguese forward still did his bit to help secure a top-half finish. Jota scored seven goals, bettered only by Jimenez among his Wolves teammates while also creating 29 chances, though he ended with just one assist.
This is some way off the players he will be contesting with at Liverpool, with Mane scoring 18 goals and recording seven assists, while Salah scored 19 with 10 assists. But that’s perhaps because Jota took a beating from opposition players before he had the chance to hurt their defences. The Portuguese forward was fouled 61 times in total in the Premier League last season, 24 of which were in the final third of the pitch. Mane was the only member of Liverpool’s front three to come close to Jota’s fouls, winning 51 (20 in the final third).
But Jota isn’t fazed by his new team-mates and is evidently eager to learn from them and improve his own game.
“They are world-class players,” he told Liverpool’s official website of Mane, Salah and Firmino. “Every match, they try to win. They score a lot of goals and they work together. I want to be one more piece to join that three. That’s what I will do.
“They are obviously more experienced than me, so the first stage is to connect with them, to learn with them. Hopefully I can be a good help for them and the club to win games.”
Jota was also very successful in take-ons last term, completing 66, with only Mane (69) completing more among his new Liverpool team-mates. And that’s fitting, because Mane is the man he has most likely been brought in to provide backup, and some competition, for.
A backup for Mane?
Jordan Henderson may have scooped up the individual awards for Liverpool last season, and Salah finished top of the scoring and assists among the attacking trio but Mane was arguably the Reds’ best attacking player.
En route to the Premier League title, Mane was seen all over the pitch for Liverpool, not just chipping in with goals and assists but also doing the defensive work high up the pitch. The Senegalese forward won possession in the final third on 27 occasions, and won 32 tackles, bettering both of his attacking teammates in the latter.
And it’s a similar case with Jota. Just take a look at the heat maps above, they’re almost identical. Jota’s is on the left and Mane’s is on the right just to clarify. Both players spent large parts of their 2019/20 Premier League seasons in their natural positions on the left wing but frequently flitted over the other side of the pitch and also weren’t shy in tracking back to help their defenders. Mane does have slightly more coverage deep on the right-hand side of the pitch, but Jota wasn’t needed to cover as much given Wolves’ set-up.
And again, looking at their dynamic radars from the Premier League last season, there isn’t too much difference between Mane and Jota.
Mane is an all-round forward, adding to Liverpool’s attacking in pretty much every way. He attempts passes in the final third, he takes shots, scores his big chance and creates them. The only thing you could argue was lacking is his crossing, but he doesn’t need to cross when Andrew Robertson is whipping them in.
Jota’s game did miss the creative side last season but he more than kept up with Mane in the attempts at goal, take-ons and non-penalty expected goals. He will need to up his creativity if he is to perfectly mimic Mane, but the Senegalese forward is somewhat of an anomaly in terms of what he brings to Liverpool.
And Mane’s importance for Liverpool – which was once again highlighted at Stamford Bridge on Sunday – is exactly why they have been searching for a similar player to provide cover. Since signing for Liverpool in 2016 times, Mane has missed just 25 Premier League matches, playing 129 games and has been fairly injury-free. But there’s always the risk of injury or absence, and it’s something Liverpool needed to do to further increase their chances of retaining the title this season.