Sometimes in football everything just seems to fall your way.
The goalmouth scramble that ends up right at your feet. The defensive slip up that lets you in. The deflected shot that trickles into the far corner. Those days, weeks, months, where you just can’t seem to do anything wrong.
Yet, for Real Betis’ Juan Miguel Jiménez López, fondly known as Juanmi, the extraordinary run of form that has seen him rise to second in the LaLiga scoring charts hasn’t felt remotely fortuitous. No. Even as everything he touches turns to solid gold, as every opportunity suddenly looks unmissable, from seemingly nowhere, there’s something about the winger’s sensational scoring spree – how easy, how natural it’s all looked – that makes it all seem suspiciously non-coincidental.
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There’s no denying that the talent has always been there; 222 La Liga appearances speaks for itself. A handful of Champions League minutes as a 19-year-old, a move to the Premier League at 22 (though fans may or may not remember Juanmi for his goalless stint at Southampton in 2015-2016) – the fleet-footed winger has clearly always had something about him. Yet, as he found himself flying through the Andalusian air last weekend – five-foot-five out-jumping six-foot-one to power home the header, his sixth goal in his last 295 minutes of football – even the player himself looked a little bewildered as he knee-slid into his favourite corner of the Benito Villamarín.
For a player like Juanmi – always good, often excellent, but rarely outstanding – the statistics are remarkable. With 11 goals and an assist in 968 minutes, he has a better strike rate than Karim Benzema. He’s in the top 1% across Europe’s attacking midfielders for % shots on target, goals per shot, and goals per shot on target – the top two percent for xGOT (Expected Goals on Target). And, outperforming that expected output by 3.24, only Karim Benzema, Giovanni Simeone and Patrik Schick can boast more clinical records in Europe’s top five leagues.
As with all such metrics, however, the question of sustainability naturally follows. Joe Willock scored seven goals in seven consecutive Premier League appearances for Newcastle last season; he has 0 in 16 since. It’s tempting, though, to argue that while Juanmi won’t keep going at the same pace, he won’t drop off completely – owing to the effortless finishing and instinctive movement that his 10-goal haul this season has demonstrated. Alongside unerring finishes against Barcelona, Levante, and Rayo Vallecano (all occasions on which the winger finds the bottom-right corner, his favourite party trick), his quick-witted anticipation to glide into those dangerous areas points to a player with a cunning taste for goals.
Relentlessly positive, always gambling on his teammates – carrying on his run against Osasuna while Nacho Vidal stopped, bursting into the space to meet the flick-on against Levante, lurking behind Moukhtar Diakhaby against Valencia – it’s absolutely no coincidence that 21 of his 25 opportunities have come from inside the penalty area. And so, while his astonishing conversion rate at first glance suggests supernatural finishing, it’s really a tenacity, persistence and optimism of movement that continues to create opportunities that he can hardly miss.
There may have been a slight slip up this weekend, as Manuel Pellegrini’s brilliant Betis were bitten in Bilbao, going down to a deflected, last-gasp winner, but there can be few qualms at their third-placed position going into Christmas, with Europa League and Copa del Rey campaigns still very much alive. Owing largely to their tip-tapping topscorer and his miraculous magic touch, Juanmi’s run has been an aligning of stars that looks to have revived a hidden talent – a moment in the limelight to illuminate the career of a slightly wayward prodigy.
He surely won’t end the season on 30 goals, as his current form suggests, but wow, at least we’ve all been reminded just how wonderful a player Juanmi Jiménez really is. And long may that continue.