Why Diogo Jota stands to benefit the most from Liverpool’s midfield revamp

Diogo Jota can often feel like the forgotten man of Liverpool’s attack.

Mohamed Salah is the unrivalled superstar, Luis Díaz provides the flashiness, Darwin Núñez is the (albeit still raw) future and Cody Gakpo is the new-ish shiny toy on the block.

Last season was one of frustration from the former Wolves attacker. He started last season with a hamstring injury that kept him out for five games and a month after recovering from that he suffered a calf injury that kept him out from October to February. Despite the injuries, Jota finished the season with seven goals and eight assists in game time that totalled 15.5 full 90s – ranking him fourth (behind Salah, Núñez and the now departed Roberto Firmino) in goal involvements in all competitions, despite significantly fewer minutes.

It is perhaps the Portugal international’s playing style that makes him less exciting (for lack of a better word) than others. The directness of Jota’s play makes him less flashy, but his effectiveness is undeniable. While, personally, I disagree with that theory, I think there is some substance behind it. Liverpool’s number 20 can be somewhat unclean in his approach, his dribbling style doesn’t catch the eye and many of his goals are tap-ins.

Yet, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool are going through a summer of change, and there has already been signs that this is going to work in Jota’s favour. Two goals against Karlsruher SC is not exactly something to shout home about – but it did give us a glimpse at what could be in store this season. The final goal, although in the dying moments of a game that was already won, is something we could expect to see more throughout the season.

Alexis Mac Allister pounces on a loose pass and wins the ball deep in the opposition half, before putting Jota clean through on goal with a lovely through ball. After the game, the former Porto player was complimentary about his new teammate, saying: “They just see these passes. It’s almost like, you just need to make the run and they will see it and that’s amazing”.

Some people took this as shade at some of the departing midfielders, yet that may be the glass-half-empty way of looking at things. If we look at it from the glass-half-full side, we have a player who is excited to work with players that suit his strengths, one that sees an opportunity to thrive.

So, what makes Jota so excited about Liverpool’s new look midfield?

Firstly, let’s look at where Jota takes his shots from in his three years at Liverpool:

Diogo Jota shot map, courtesy of Understat.com

As we can see from the above, the majority of Jota’s shots are taking place in between the penalty spot and the six-yard box. This is backed up in the data, Jota’s average shot distance is 12.4 yards from the goal, ranking him in the top one percent of attacking midfielders/wingers in Europe’s top five leagues. He also ranks in the top three percent for expected goals per shot. In simple terms, Jota isn’t a high-volume shooter (averaging just under three per 90), but when he does take those shots, they tend to be high-quality ones. The data also tells us that Jota isn’t getting into these positions through ball carrying, he is in the bottom 42nd percentile for carries into the penalty area (at 0.97 per ninety).

Jota relies on the creativity of others in order to score goals. His talent is in his movement, his ability to make blindside runs and deceive his marker. In his three years at the club, this has never tended to come from the midfield areas. Liverpool’s most creative outlets have been their full backs. Yet that may be changing. With the addition of already mentioned Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton and Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig, Liverpool have brought in two more attacking minded midfielders.

Last season was one of a lot of frustration – not just for Jota – but for the entire fanbase. One of the biggest reasons for this was the dysfunctionality and drop off from Liverpool’s midfielders. The midfield, as mentioned, has never been Klopp’s method of creativity at the club. Yet, as the summer came in and Champions League football was missed it was clear that a revamp (that was overdue) was about to occur. So far, the club has seen James Milner, Naby Keïta and Oxlade-Chamberlain leave on frees, while Jordan Henderson and Fabinho seem to be following them with lucrative moves to the Saudi Pro League. Their replacements have signalled a change in approach.

Jordan Henderson was statistically Liverpool’s most creative midfielder last season. He put up the best expected assist numbers of his career so far at 0.14 per ninety. But the man that is seemingly going to replace him far eclipses those numbers. Szoboszlai is a creation machine.

In his two seasons in Germany, he put up 0.35xA from 1,543 minutes in 2021/22 and 0.32xA from 2,444 minutes in 2022/23. He has registered 16 assists in two seasons in the Bundesliga. If we look at his assist here against Greuther Fürth:

The outside of the boot ball is genius – and not something you would expect to have seen from a Liverpool midfielder in recent years. But if we look at the positioning of the player that scores the goal, these are exactly the areas that Jota loves to occupy. He is constantly running off the shoulder of his man, looking to find space for the easy finish. Having a midfielder that is constantly looking to make runs into the box and has the ability to find the pass would be beneficial to every attacker – but the stylistic fit of Szoboszlai and Jota, on paper, seems perfect.

There is the caveat that the Hungarian’s creative numbers are boosted by his excellent set-piece delivery – but this also suits Jota. Despite being 5ft 10in, the Porto-born forward is lethal in the air. In his three years at Anfield, he has scored eight league goals with his head from 7.74 expected goals. A combination of the elite movement already mentioned and a leap a prize salmon would be proud of makes him extremely dangerous from both open play and set pieces in the air. We’ve already seen it from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s generational delivery, having another option in these situations should only stand to benefit Jota.

Alexis Mac Allister is less of the creative machine that Szoboszlai is, but his 4.4 expected assists last season was still better than that of any Liverpool midfielder. It is Mac Allister’s ability to progress the ball up the pitch quickly and his interplay in the final third that will allow Jota to thrive. There is already evidence of them building a connection in the ninety minutes of football they’ve played together this season. Gakpo, Mac Allister and Jota have put together some lovely one touch passing sequences on the edge of the box, and the Argentinian has already provided an assist for Jota – as seen above. Mac Allister is constantly trying to get the ball into dangerous areas, as seen from this visual from @pranav_m28:

This is seemingly just the start of Liverpool’s midfield rebuild – with Roméo Lavia the next target.

It’s not just new faces. Curtis Jones has seen increased game time and responsibility, and Harvey Elliott is a progressive and creative outlet that will be looking to make a further mark. Of course, all of Liverpool’s attackers will be looking to benefit from this rebuild.

Yet Jota often feels forgotten, and his playing style – in theory – fits these new faces like a glove. Players like Szoboszlai and Mac Allister have shown an ability to get the ball in dangerous areas on a consistent basis, and Jota is the type of player that just needs one touch to put the ball in the goal.

With a full pre-season and apparent full health, I wouldn’t bet against the Portuguese attacker being Liverpool’s second-top scorer behind Salah in the 2023/24 season.

Share This Article