Wednesday, February 8

How Diogo Jota, Liverpool’s ‘perfect signing’, broke the first line Salah-Mane-Firmino

It was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

With Liverpool 3-1 up at Goodison, and the visiting winger working his way through their extensive list of songs, Andy Robertson threw a pass into Diogo Jota’s feet, a couple of yards into Everton’s penalty area.

Jota had his back to the goal and a defender, Allan, was very close. Three seconds and three exquisite touches later, the ball was in the back of Jordan Pickford’s net.

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“Sometimes you just try things and they happen,” he would say later, reflecting on his ninth goal of the season. “I was very happy to basically kill the game at the time.”

What an impressive signing the Portuguese international has proven to be. If questions were asked when Liverpool agreed to a £ 45 million ($ 60 million) deal with the Wolves last September, then they have been answered comprehensively ever since.

Jota’s record with the Reds is excellent; 22 goals in 47 appearances, of which only 33 have started.

He beat Roberto Firmino last season despite missing two months of the season due to injury, and this time he’s on a par with Sadio Mane. Only Mohamed Salah (obviously) and Jamie Vardy have more goals in the Premier League this season.

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“Exceptional player, exceptional boy,” said Jurgen Klopp after last week’s 4-0 win over Southampton, in which Jota scored twice.

“For us it was a perfect signing because he has everything a Liverpool player needs in this squad.”

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Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders had described Jota as “a pressing monster” upon his arrival at Anfield, while Kevin Thelwell, the sporting director who had brought him to Wolves from Atlético Madrid in 2017, told Goal that I had no doubt that the 24th year would have a huge impact on Merseyside.

“It’s great for Liverpool,” said Thelwell, now sporting director for the MLS team, the New York Red Bulls.

“He will come in with the right mindset. He is ambitious, of course, and he will really try to get into that starting eleven as soon as he can, but he is also realistic, and he recognizes the level and quality that he is already at Liverpool.

“His goal will be to learn and develop from that quality and become one of those players in due course.”

It didn’t take long, did it? Liverpool’s three forwards, Salah, Mane and Firmino, have been the foundation of the Reds’ success with Klopp, but in the space of 14 months, Jota has accomplished the impossible. He has turned the Three Amigos into the Fab Four.

“He has the technical skills, he has the physical skills and he’s very smart and he can learn all things tactics pretty quickly,” says Klopp.

“And on top of that, he can play all three [attacking] positions, which is very useful. “

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He is there. It is Jota’s versatility, as well as his quality, that has made him such a valuable asset to Liverpool.

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He can replace any of the established trio, or play alongside them, if Klopp wishes to alter his preferred 4-3-3 formation.

It is not as deadly as Salah, but it is clinical enough. Only four forwards – Hwang Hee-Chan, Jamie Vardy, Danny Ings and Jadon Sancho – have a better shot conversion rate in the Premier League this season (minimum 400 minutes played), and Jota’s expected goals (xG) of 7.11 they are improved only by Salah and Mane.

He’s not as strong or as fast as Mane, but he’s physical enough and brave enough.

Only Sergi Canos, Emmanuel Dennis and Leandro Trossard have made more tackles, and Jota has had more aerial duels this season than Mane, Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Cristiano Ronaldo, to name just a few.

And yes, he may not be as smart as Firmino, but he’s certainly smart enough. He has created 20 chances for his teammates this season – more than Mane, Ronaldo, Son Heung-min, Vardy or Harry Kane – and has gained possession in the final third more times than any forward except Trossard, Michail Antonio or Neal Maupay.

A pressing monster indeed.

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Liverpool will need it more than ever in the coming weeks, with a packed December followed by a January in which they will be without Salah and Mane due to the African Cup of Nations. In his absence, he will bear much of the Reds’ scoring burden.

Before that, however, comes a trip to Molineux, where Jota spent three seasons before moving to Liverpool, and where he scored the Reds’ goal in March.

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“I remember when I first saw him, I thought he might be a player for me,” Klopp said Friday.

“Because of how intense he was in all situations. Technically, he’s at a very high level, but he makes a difference with his attitude.

“People maybe said he didn’t score many goals [he netted 44 in 131 games] Wolves probably had the most intense style of play for offensive wingers. [Raul] Jiménez was allowed to stay up, but the rest had to cover practically the entire field, and that costs you energy.

“For us, it was clear that he will take the next steps with us, and that is what he did.”

It certainly did. For years we wondered how the hell Liverpool would find someone to compete with Salah, Mane and Firmino.

They found their answer in Wolves. Jota is part of the future of the Reds, as well as their present.

And if they can make a few more signings like him in the next few years, the club will be in poor health.

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