Two Wing Jota Could Help Liverpool Fly
Liverpool sprung a surprise last weekend by wrapping up a £45,000,000 deal to sign Wolves’ Portuguese attacker Diogo Jota.
Having previously been linked to Watford’s Ismailia Sarr, the Reds — by all accounts — moved quickly to secure the signature of the 23-year-old Portugal international.
And now he calls Anfield his footballing home, Jota will offer Jurgen Klopp a versatility worth its weight in gold.
Genuinely two-footed, the former Porto attacker — whose 16 Premier League goals over the last two seasons have come equally divided between left and right foot — can play off either wing and this flexibility means that the Reds won’t have to massively change their approach if one of Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah doesn’t play.
Liverpool have been consistently excellent since the 2017/2018 season with Salah — cutting in off the right onto his stronger left foot — and Mane — using his favoured right foot off the left flank — playing as the wide-forwards flanking Roberto Firmino.
With the left-footed Xherdan Shaqiri frequently injured and Divock Origi’s inconsistencies stifling the Reds’ attacking momentum, the team has lost much of its attacking qualities — except from, famously, the 2018 Champions League sem-final win over Barcelona, when Salah and Firmino were injury absences — when two of their front three have been missing.
But now with Jota signed, Klopp — owing to the Portuguese’s ambidexterity — can play him off either flank and not lose the narrow front three dynamic, with marauding full-backs providing the width, that has seen Liverpool players either win or share two of the last three Premier League golden boots.
There is also the tantalising prospect of Jota playing in the same attack as all three of Mane, Firmino and Salah.
In the pre-season just passed, the Reds have experimented with, along with playing a 4222 shape, a return to the 4231 formation which was used during the 2015/16 season.
In this alignment, the favored approach of Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool could fit all of their attacking weapons into the team at once and — thanks to the tactical intelligence and discipline of new signing Thiago and whomever from the long list of the Reds’ quality midfield options is chosen to partner the Spaniard — not become overrun in the engine room or susceptible to the counter-attack.
Jota shares his two-footedness with Mane — who is nominally right-footed but whose personal highlight reel includes several left-footed wonder goals — and Liverpool could cause oppositions defences innumerable issues by swapping the two in-game. Perhaps a full-back would be getting the better of the former Wolves man, only for the test of dealing with the Reds’ number 10 to rear its ugly head.
Salah, as shown during the 2018/2019 season, is more than adept at leading the line as the 9 number and Roberto Firmino — as evidenced both at Liverpool and at Hoffenheim, where he primarily played off the striker — is comfortable as the attacking midfielder.
With Trent Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson providing width and attacking incision from full-back, the Reds would have multiple ways to open up teams and overcome the nullifying tactics used against them by most opponents without exposing themselves defensively.
Nuno Espirito Santo has done a stellar job at Wolves, getting the midlands team promoted and guiding them to consecutive top-half finishes as well as a Europa League quarter-final.
The former Portugal goalkeeper demands discipline and hard-work from his team in his rigid 343 or 352 formations and Jota — who, per FBRef, successfully completed 22% of his pressing actions over the last two seasons — never shirked any of these off-ball duties during his time at Molyneaux.
With Mane also not afraid to roll up his sleeves and contribute to the defensive phases, Liverpool could remain solid and defensively robust down the wings while not sacrificing their famed attacking thrust going forward.
Whether he is primarily viewed as a rotational option or is chalked down as a starter in a newly configured formation, Jota could well prove to be an extremely astute acquisition for the title-chasing Reds.