Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool paid out a potential £45m to sign Diogo Jota from Wolves in September 2020. The forward had been a key member of the Wolves team that had returned to the top flight under Nuno Espírito Santo, but 16 Premier League goals in two seasons didn't necessarily scream for a move to a Champions League club – and certainly not one with so established a front three as Liverpool had built under Jürgen Klopp.
The reality is that Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino had all played a huge amount of football in Champions League and Premier League-winning seasons. Inevitably, the team needed greater depth and competition in attacking areas. Jota provided that instantly, although his first season was limited by injuries that affected so many important players in the squad. The Portugal international has since established himself as an important attacking option for the Reds, with the arrival of Luis Díaz in January 2022 giving the manager five top-class forwards to choose from.
“Diogo is just a class football player,” said Klopp of a player who was 23 when he arrived. “He can play up front in all three positions. He played all three positions for us and that is already really helpful. He can play them on a really high level, so he makes us stronger, which is really good.”
Jota’s greatest strength is the pace at which he carries the ball. He moves at high speed and is therefore a huge threat when there is space to break into, meaning he is particularly useful at attacking transitions. That played a part in his success in Nuno's counter-attacking Wolves, and also helped him settle in quickly at Liverpool, who look to attack quickly towards goal following a regain.
He has the ability to play off both feet, so he is confident running either left or right when dribbling at an opponent. When carrying the ball, he shifts laterally quickly and constantly, always moving to create angles to play. As a result, he can attack into space, make a pass, attempt a shot or check back on to his other foot. His pace and comfort on both sides make him difficult both to predict and defend against.
Though his right foot is stronger, he is also effective with his left. When he is close to goal, he can shoot with either, meaning opponents can’t simply guide him towards the weaker foot to try to prevent him from shooting. He is explosive in his movements, so he can slow an opponent down – sometimes even to a static position – before bursting away from them in any direction. He is also happy to attack small gaps between defenders, and skilled at shifting the ball cleverly between his feet to do so (below).
Jota is comfortable coming deep to collect the ball, but he is at his best when able to attack the space in behind an opponent and run in on goal. He is intelligent with his movement, using runs made by teammates to make the most of any gaps in the opponents' structure.
Given his size, he holds on to the ball under pressure impressively. He has a superb first touch, and uses his body well to protect the ball. However, he can struggle as the focal point of an attack, both because he prefers to receive facing goal rather than with his back to it and because he is good at using a centre-forward’s movements to find space for himself. He is happy to make selfless runs away from goal from a centre-forward's position, but his influence on matches wanes when he is asked to do so.
Jota slotted in seamlessly at Liverpool, proving a natural fit in the high-tempo game that Klopp plays, and in a fluid front three that consistently dovetails. He has played in all three positions across Liverpool's front line since joining, and he roams all over the final third whichever position he plays in. He is perhaps more suited to the left side of the attack, but both Mané and Díaz are at their best from that flank. Given Firmino is now in his 30s and a less regular scorer than the others, Jota may well appear more centrally than out wide in the seasons to come.
When he does play through the middle, he wide more than Firmino. While the Brazilian is one of the best around at dropping into positions between the lines to receive passes, Jota prefers to move out towards the left. In doing so, like Firmino, he helps create space for Mané and Salah to attack.
When Klopp selects Jota at centre-forward, he wants the Portuguese to do some of what Firmino does. That means Jota drops towards the ball and demands passes from midfield, but he is not anything like as comfortable receiving between the lines or on the half-turn, and often drops beyond the opposition's midfield line or takes his first touch back towards where play has come from (above). The result is that, while Firmino would attempt to turn and progress play or link with an advanced teammate out wide, Jota can slow the move down by passing up the opportunity to turn.
Jota still works extremely hard to find space, however, and is constantly on the move in the final third – which in itself can create space for others. He also works hard defensively, and has adapted well to Liverpool's out-of-possession approach. He is clever in cutting off passing lanes and good at adjusting the angle of his press to force the opposition towards a teammate or a crowded area of the pitch. He is then aggressive in his attempts to win the ball, and regains possession as often through tackles as he does interceptions.
When fit, goals have flowed in his first two seasons at Liverpool. He has linked particularly well with left-back Andy Robertson and Mané. The three make runs that help each other find space on the left, and Jota takes advantage whenever their movement creates a gap in behind or between the opposing centre-backs. Long, direct passes forward are regularly the best route to finding him in those positions, but Robertson’s accurate crosses have also succeeded (above).
He had a tricky start to life at Anfield, largely due to circumstances well beyond his control, but Jota was one of the few success stories when Klopp’s team were struggling to find the form that won them the Champions and Premier Leagues. That he has thrived as Liverpool strengthened their squad and welcomed back so many key men from long-term injuries is no surprise at all.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice