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Diogo Jota

Wolves to Liverpool, £45m

It is perhaps a measure of Diogo Jota’s confidence that he chose to leave a system, at Wolves, in which he regularly impressed, to compete for selection in Liverpool’s front three, widely considered Europe’s finest. Before Jota, signed for £45m at the age of 23, the talented Xherdan Shaqiri was among those to move to Anfield and struggle for regular first-team football; despite scoring some particularly important goals, Divock Origi remains peripheral; Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana had become so peripheral they had already left.

Perhaps more than any of those who struggled before him, Jota provides a variety that can potentially compensate for the extent to which Liverpool’s balance suffers when any of that front three is absent. “He’s a player who gives us so many options to use him,” said their manager Jürgen Klopp. “He’s 23 years old; still far away from being 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.”

Tactical analysis
Jota’s greatest strength is his ability to play off both feet. Though his right foot is his strongest, he is also very effective with his left, and can therefore attack with variety, particularly across the final third. If he isn’t fast over longer distances, he remains relatively explosive – including from a static start – and capable of using that to gain the advantage on defenders, including if attacking one-on-one.

When carrying the ball his quick lateral shifts regularly help him beyond opponents; his initial sideways movement creates the angle he requires to then play the ball or shoot without the need to burst into space. That he is two-footed makes it harder for defenders to read him, and he takes that relative unpredictability, explosiveness and timing into the final third, where he combines effectively with teammates to create goalscoring chances or, less regularly, shoot with either foot.

When receiving possession further forwards, his ability to control with his chest helps to progress the ball into the spaces that exist behind defences, and the quality of his first touch, whether receiving on the ground or an aerial pass, regularly leads to the creation of shots on goal. He offers similar variety in his movements, particularly when adjusting to those made by his teammates, and whether targeting spaces in front of or between defenders or receiving on the move. If the latter, he reacts to the pass to ensure the correct body shape between the ball and his closest defender (below), to ensure that he can protect it.

For all of that variety, Jota has so far struggled to consistently convince as the focal point of an attack, and not least because of the extent to which he thrives by playing alongside a further attacker and by using his intelligence to adopt positions around that attacker and to receive while facing goal. If his team is attempting to defend, he is most effective when screening and covering passing lanes before then approaching the ball carrier, and when quickly adjusting the angle of his press as that ball carrier moves to delay the attempted attack, or even encourage play into an area where a more physically imposing teammate can instead make the challenge. He regains possession through interceptions as regularly as he does direct tackles, and even more so free balls following an intelligent press or defensive trap.

Role at Wolves
During Jota’s time under Nuno Espírito Santo, Wolves were most commonly organised into a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. In their 3-4-3 he featured on the left of their front three, regularly occupied the left inside channel, and moved to assist the central midfielders playing behind him; in their 3-5-2 he played in a front two with Raul Jiménez (below), who he regularly moved behind and into the spaces ahead of play.

During that period they most commonly attacked towards the right, where Matt Doherty and Adama Traoré were so influential, so Jota’s role from the left was to occupy the spaces in the inside channel during build-up phases; to provide Wolves’ balance in the knowledge that their left wing-back would provide their width. Through adopting a narrow position as a secondary forward around Jiménez – their chief aerial target – and attacking towards the far post, Jota remained ready to compete for the second phase or to attack play from Jiménez.

In their 3-4-3 Jota combined with the central midfielders behind him – as the right-sided midfielder advanced and Jiménez drifted across – to operate similarly to a number 10 and drive forwards with possession behind the runs of Traoré or Doherty and Jiménez, and also often provided the link from midfield into attack when they attacked on the counter. In their 3-5-2 he had a more advanced starting position, and three central midfielders less in need of his support, so his movements were more penetrative and aimed towards the spaces behind defences or opponents being drawn out of position by Jiménez.

In both structures he had significant support. Complemented by Doherty or Traoré advancing on the right – not dissimilarly to the influential Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson at Liverpool – Jota regularly proved capable of providing the necessary creative touch, and occasionally the finishing one.

Diogo Jota

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