Diogo Jota became a Liverpool player just 45 days ago, and though he’s only made nine appearances in all competitions for the Reds (four starts and five as a substitute), his four goals have already made him a sensation.
Of course, it’s not just his goals — they don’t come from nothing, and instead serve to crown very complete performances. From his first appearance the eye test told us that he suited Liverpool.
Coming on for his first Premier League appearance for the club against Arsenal while the game was still in the balance, he replaced the ever-important Sadio Mané and merged seamlessly with the intense style of play on show before scoring the goal that put the match to bed.
While new signings — often desperate to impress — are always liable to look “busy” whenever given minutes, Jota looked busy in a way that made it seem he’d been with the club for years, not days.
How excited should fans be about Jota?
Look, the sample size is small (I know, I know, but you have to say it). Thus far this season he has made nine appearances for Liverpool, with four starts (two of these coming in the Premier League). In total, he’s featured for 467 minutes, which would be about five matches. It’s not a lot to work from.
Of course, he has been excellent for Portugal during this period as well, scoring three goals in four competitive appearances, which suggests his good form for the Reds is not simply an attempt to prove his importance to his new manager, a heartening aside.
Despite the sample size, though, Jota has been lively and smart in his play, and that shows in his numbers. He has taken just under two shots per 90 (1.73) for Liverpool, up from 1.16 for Wolves in 2019/20. His expected goals (xG) for the Reds has him on about a goal every two games, and his Premier League expected assists (xA) is at the rate of one in four.
More than this, his impact can be measured positively beyond the goals he’s involved in (or expected to be involved in). He looks to cut into teams when he’s on the pitch, producing over a key pass per 90 (1.35) at a success rate of 45%, looking to connect up with teammates to pose a challenge for defenders whenever he’s on the pitch (often defenders who are already tired from chasing after the teammate he replaced).
Looking generally, of his 71 average actions per 90, 50 are successful; this means he’s an overwhelmingly positive influence on the side, and suggests a good level of decision making even when coming onto the pitch cold.
What does this mean? Well, it means the eye test doesn’t lie. Jota looks like he’s a player who can change games because he comes on and tries to do just that, often succeeding.
How does he compare to the present front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mané? His numbers are close to Firmino’s in all but chances created, and they fall a good bit behind the other two. Interestingly, though he loses the ball at about Bobby’s rate, his ball recovery numbers are low, and this is perhaps an area to work on. Given his newness and the limited sample size, however, the comparisons flatter the Portuguese.
Frustratingly enough given his barren goal run, Firmino has the strongest xG per shot (0.26) of the front three, with Mané second on 0.2, Salah third on 0.17, and Jota a close fourth on 0.15. This metric is crucial given that Liverpool in 2020/21 are struggling to create chances in good areas, an issue made all the more important without Virgil Van Dijk in the defense — put simply, the Reds might well be asked to score more than the one goal per match that sustained them so well through their title-winning season, especially early on.
Jota’s performance last time out shows his promise in that area, however: he had just one shot (that was registered by the statisticians, given the goal chalked off) in the match, following the artful run Xherdan Shaqiri picked out with his equally clever pass; this goal had an xG of 0.24, exactly the kind of numbers he’ll be (excuse the pun) shooting for.
What these numbers mean, basically, is that the eye doesn’t flatter to deceive. It would be almost unthinkable to even make comparisons between a new signing and the best front three in world football, so that should speak for itself. (Incidentally, Timo Werner doesn’t win out or even largely come close against the present front three in any of the above categories, and only slightly edges Jota in chances created and ball recoveries.) Jota is a very good fit for Liverpool given present evidence.
And here’s the thing: Jota slots into the side as though he belongs there (and has launched a convincing argument for a place on the starting line-up) even though he’s just 23.
While his signing didn’t come with the excitement surrounding rumors of #Mbappe2020 on social media — or even the fanfare deservedly greeting Thiago, a world-class player in his own right — it’s possible that the Reds have quietly signed a player who may well be at the heart of succession planning.
That last number in this article, 23, might be the most important one on his scouting report.