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Transfer Scouting: Diogo Jota

We look at what the Reds’ new signing — no, the other one — brings to the table.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Espanyol Barcelona - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: First Leg Photo by Visionhaus

After nearly two years of barren transfer windows, we have grown torpid and indolent here at the air-conditioned, laptop-riddled TLO scouting offices. Expecting the Reds to continue their course of only signing 17-year olds with a half-dozen senior games, we did not expect to have to put together a proper report until after Christmas at the earliest.

Alas, Liverpool have had the wool pulled well and good down over our eyes, and after extending the Thiago transfer saga for three months, went ahead and sneakily announced another imminent signing all of twenty minutes later. Just no concern for our lapsed Excel-subscription. How rude!

Here, then, is our take on Diogo Jota.

Diogo José Teixeira da Silva

DOB: 4/12/96 (23 years old) | Height: 5’10” (178cm)
2019/20 season: 48 appearances
16 goals | 6 assists

Strengths: Do you like Liverpool’s current wide attackers? Then you’re probably going to enjoy the Diogo Jota experience. While the 23-year old doesn’t possess quite the electric straightline speed of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, his other physical attributes are strikingly similar, using deceptive strength to hold off defenders — both when shielding the ball and running with it at pace — and outstanding balance to keep his feet under him as he weaves his way through traffic. His close control is also excellent, and getting the ball off him without conceding a foul has proven exceedingly difficult, with the Portuguese racking up 3 successful dribbles and 2.4 fouls awarded per 90 minutes last year, both more than any Liverpool player.

Also similar to his future teammates is Jota’s penchant for getting on the ball inside the area despite nominally starting in a wide position. Whether carrying the ball or making a run within the frame of the goal to receive it, the former Atlético Madrid man will cut inside and look to make a game-changing difference in the box. His 6.1 touches in the opposing area — while not quite as many as the Reds’ current front line — was more than any other Wolves player, and indicative of his importance to a side that generally looked to attack in transition rather than create sustained spells of pressure around the penalty area.

He gets in among the shots as well, putting up 3.5 shot-creating actions per game, again more than any other Wolves player, dead even with Mané and Salah. Naturally, this leads to excellent expected goal and assist numbers, and Jota racked up 0.53 xG+A last year — you guessed it, the highest of any Wolverhampton Wanderer — and good for fourth compared to his new team-mates. With 84% of his shots taken from inside the area, the Portuguese attacker is very prudent in his shot selection, and will rarely waste possession chasing a speculative effort. In fact, Jota’s underlying attacking numbers at Wolves are remarkably similar to those put up by Sadio Mané at the same age in his two years at Southampton, a statistical parallel that should make Liverpool fans very excited.

The Gondomar youth product is an eager presser from the front as well, generating 22.6 pressures on the ball carrier per game last year, second only to Naby Keita on the current Liverpool roster, and although his success rate is a little lower than one would ideally prefer, it is entirely reasonable to chalk a lot of that up to Wolves’ press simply not being as effective as that of Jürgen Klopp’s Reds.

Among his more intangible attributes, Jota appears genuinely two-footed, and among the 500-odd players to appear in the Premier League last year, only 14 used both feet more interchangeably than the Wolves man, as a full third of his passes and shots were made with his left foot. He seems nearly impervious to injuries as well, and has only once missed more than two games in a row once during his time in England, suffering a hamstring injury halfway through the 2018/19 campaign.

Finally, Jota can bring the ball forward. With 230 yards of progressive carries per game, the 23-year-old ranked eighth among midfielders and attackers in the Premier League last year, and coming into a Liverpool side that has largely struggled to progress the ball up the pitch without passing it if Naby Keita isn’t playing, this skill could be extremely valuable in unbalancing opposition defences.

Weaknesses: Although 16 goals over two seasons isn’t a bad tally for a wide attacker in a counter-oriented team, it is quite a bit lower — 25%, in fact — than the underlying numbers predict. There is an ongoing discussion in the stats community about whether finishing is a technical skill and, if so, how one would go about determining where on that spectrum a player would fall, but, if it is, then based on the output in his nearly 5000 Premier League minutes thus far, it could be that Jota simply isn’t a great finisher. He regularly gets into great positions, but even when he scores, he can seem a little hurried and too rarely makes clean contact or decisively buries the ball in the corner.

Similarly, for all the ball carrying and dribbling and getting into the area, Jota doesn’t rack up many assists — again sitting about 25% under his expected numbers — and a single key pass per 90 minutes is simply not enough for a player who gets on the ball in dangerous positions so often. His new side are definitely willing to push more players into the box — Wolves will rarely provide more than two targets to aim for — so conditions should be better this season, and while this could all be nothing more than a statistical aberration, it is worth keeping an eye on.

In general, there are improvements to be made in Jota’s passing range and accuracy, as 2.5 progressive passes and only 0.8 passes into the penalty area — although both numbers are slightly amended by the ball carrying — is simply insufficient at the very top level, and the Anfield coaching staff will undoubtedly be looking to improve this part of his game.

Summary: Michael Edwards has seemingly hit another zinger here, trading £32M and a youth prospect — or £41M plus £4M in add-ons if you only care about top line numbers — who seemed an odd fit in the Reds’ system for an outstanding stylistic match, brining in quality back-up to the front three while improving the squad’s age profile in the process.

Diogo Jota is pre-peak, Premier League proven, and arrives with the expectation that he is going to take another step in his development — perhaps even entering the world-class category — while the worst-case scenario is that he should be an excellent squad player for the next half-decade.

What will the club cook up for us tomorrow, one wonders!

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