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Friday, September 17, 2021

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Ruthlessly efficient Diogo Jota shoots Liverpool into a happy selection dilemma

There is a joke amongst Liverpool’s research department, housing the esteemed Ian Graham and his team of six industry-leading data science brainiacs, that Diogo Jota’s shot maps should be hanging up in a museum.

There is also still complete bemusement amongst them that the club had a free run at recruiting the ridiculously efficient Portugal international from Wolves last September.

Jota’s numbers – positive actions created from his dribbling to conversion of big chances and everything in-between – signalled an elite forward in the making.

The video analysis backed up that finding, showcasing a very two-footed player who regularly caught goalkeepers off-guard with his early shooting, or made them uncomfortable with low and hard strikes.

His rate of first-time shots, or touch-and-bang finishes were very high. Jota was reading as a potential gem: already more effective than Sadio Mane had been at Southampton, with similar room to develop by refining minimal processes and being part of a more consistent team.

With finances restricted due to the pandemic, Liverpool had to be extra certain of their purchases last summer. Paying an initial £41 million for Jota in the depressed circumstances, even though only 10% of the guaranteed fee had to be paid over the first 12 months, was testament to the club believing he was a banker.

And so he has proved to be. Jota has scored 15 goals for the Merseysiders in 32 appearances, which is impressive enough without calculating the unhelpful nature of his settling-in period: the makeshift state of Liverpool last season due to injuries and the fact he was also unavailable for a lengthy period with a knee problem.

His successful efforts have been so varied, eight of them materialising from his right foot, three with the other and four via his head. The last of those were seen as one of Jota’s potential weaknesses, but he has been excellent aerially.

Jota is a high-volume shooter, who averages 3.5 attempts per game, with a superb accuracy of 56%. Seven of his goals have been the opener, with three serving as match-winners.

He is the definition of “ruthless efficiency.” Jota is also offering Liverpool a highly dangerous alternative to Roberto Firmino as the No 9. Prior to the Portuguese’s arrival, it seemed inconceivable that the “connecting player, finisher, fighter and the first defender” would be kept on the bench by Jurgen Klopp when available.

It was a familiar refrain that Firmino was “the system,” the player Liverpool’s tactical approach orbited around. Jota, however, has started the first two games of the season ahead of the Brazilian.

Klopp has maintained that is on account of Firmino not being involved in as many training sessions as his alternative, who hasn’t yet hit peak conditioning.

The manager has been angered by suggestions that the 29-year-old’s importance to the collective has faded and it would still be somewhat of a shock if he did not turn to ‘Bobby’ in the big matches, where he is considered to be the better option without the ball and in transition.

He is excellent at attracting the opposition into pressing traps, shaping runs and directing the movement of the attack as well as closing down spaces and passing lanes.

Saturday’s showdown with Chelsea will provide an interesting window into whether Klopp sticks with sharp-shooting Jota, who is backed to improve in those areas, or returns Firmino’s off-ball craftiness to the fold from the start.

Whether the 24-year-old is in the XI or comes off the bench, you can count on him testing Edouard Mendy and adding to his shot map art.

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