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



It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.

With Liverpool 3-1 up at Goodison, and with the away end working its way through its extensive song list, Andy Robertson rolled a pass into the feet of Diogo Jota, a couple of yards inside the Everton penalty area.

Jota had his back to goal and a defender, Allan, in close attendance. 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 afterward, reflecting on his ninth goal of the season. “I was very pleased to basically kill the game at that point.”

What an impressive signing the Portugal international has proven to be. If questions were asked when Liverpool agreed a deal worth ยฃ45 million ($60 million) with Wolves last September, then they have been answered comprehensively since.

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

He outscored Roberto Firmino last season despite missing two months of the campaign through injury, and is level with Sadio Mane this time around. Only Mohamed Salah (obviously) and Jamie Vardy have more Premier League goals this term.

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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.ย 

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

Pep Lijnders, Klopp’s assistant, had described Jota as “a pressing monster” following his arrival at Anfield, while Kevin Thelwell, the sporting director who had brought him to Wolves from Atletico Madrid in 2017, told Goal he had no doubt that the 24-year-old would make a big impact on Merseyside.

“He’s ideal for Liverpool,” said Thelwell, now the head of sport at MLS outfit New York Red Bulls.ย 

“He’ll come in with exactly the right mentality. He’s ambitious, of course, and he will really try and break into that starting XI as soon as he can, but he’s also realistic, and he recognizes the level and the quality that is already at Liverpool.ย 

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

It hasn’t taken him long, has it? Liverpool’s front three โ€” Salah, Mane and Firmino โ€”ย has been the bedrock of the Reds’ success under Klopp, but in the space of 14 months Jota has achieved the impossible. He has turned the Three Amigos into the Fab Four.

“He has the technical skills, he has the physical skills and he is very smart and can learn all the tactical stuff pretty quick,” says Klopp.

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

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

He can replace any of the established trio, or play together with them, should Klopp wish to alter his preferred 4-3-3 formation.

He’s not as deadly as Salah, but he’s clinical enough. Only four forwards โ€” Hwang Hee-Chan, Jamie Vardy, Danny Ings and Jadon Sancho โ€” 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 is bettered only by Salah and Mane.

He’s not as strong or as quick as Mane, but he’s physical enough and game enough.

Only Sergi Canos, Emmanuel Dennis and Leandro Trossard have made more tackles, and Jota has contested 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 clever as Firmino, but he’s certainly clever enough. He has created 20 chances for teammates this season, more than Mane, Ronaldo, Son Heung-min, Vardy or Harry Kane, and has won possession in the final third more times than any forward except Trossard, Michail Antonio or Neal Maupay.ย 

A pressing monster indeed.

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Liverpool will need him more than ever in the coming weeks, with a packed December followed by a January in which they will be without both Salah and Mane due to the Africa Cup of Nations. In their absence he will carry much of the Reds’ goalscoring burden.

Before that, though, comes a trip to Molineux, where Jota spent three seasons before his move to Liverpool, and where he netted the Reds’ winner back in March.

“I remember when I saw him the first time, I thought he could be a player for me,” said Klopp on Friday.ย 

“Because of how intense he was in all situations. Technically, he is on a really high level, but he makes a difference with his attitude.ย 

“People maybe said he didn’t score an awful lot of goals [he netted 44 in 131 games] Wolves had probably the most intense style of play for offensive wingers. [Raul] Jimenez was allowed to stay up, but all the rest had to cover pretty much the whole pitch, and that costs you energy.

“For us, it was clear that he will make the next steps with us, and that’s what he did.”

He certainly did. For years we wondered how on earth Liverpool would find someone to compete with Salah, Mane and Firmino.

They found their answer at Wolves. Jota is a part of the Reds’ future, as well as their present.ย 

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



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