Diogo Jota had a fabulous debut season in front of goal for Liverpool and carried that form into 2021/22 by scoring in the opening two matches against Norwich City and Burnley.
Following the 3-0 victory over Leeds United at Elland Road, the Portuguese forward has a goal every 136 minutes for the Reds, just a shade behind Mohamed Salah’ s average of one every 133 (and if we ignore penalties then Jota has the edge).
However, if one were to be critical of his efforts last season, it would be reasonable to say Jota offered very little when it came to setting up chances for his teammates.
Liverpool’s midfielders and back up players are not well known for creating chances. They’re not even really expected to do so in Jurgen Klopp’s system either. Yet James Milner, Neco Williams, Naby Keita and Curtis Jones were among the players who set up goal scoring opportunities more frequently than Jota did last season.
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Liverpool’s number 20 created just three clear-cut chances in all competitions – the same total as Joel Matip and fewer than nine other Reds – with his only assist providing Salah with the opening goal of the Champions League second leg match against RB Leipzig.
While Jota’s impressive goal record arguably made his lack of creativity in 2020/21 moot, Klopp relies on his front five (the forwards plus the full-backs) to set up the bulk of the team’s high quality scoring situations.
With this in mind, it was very encouraging to see that Jota was incredibly productive against Marcelo Bielsa’s team on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t just a highly creative outing in the context of his own Liverpool career but when compared to his teammates across the last 12 months too.
Per FBRef, Jota played a total of eight key passes (meaning they directly preceded shots). With four chances created for Sadio Mane, the former Wolves man recorded only the fifth instance of one Liverpool player setting up a specific other for four-or-more opportunities since the start of 2017/18.
Jota also set up chances for Thiago Alcantara, Harvey Elliott, Jordan Henderson and Salah, with his total of eight matching the most any of Klopp’s squad managed in league and Europe last season (as Mane fashioned eight in the home loss to Burnley).
And because two of the chances were particularly high value, Jota’s efforts were worth 1.4 expected assists, topping the 1.3 Trent Alexander-Arnold recorded against Midtjylland to lead the way for the Reds in 2020/21.
As two of the subsequent shots were classified as clear-cut chances by Opta, Jota almost matched his total of three last season in a single match. Irrespective of that, he has equalled his expected assist total from his debut Liverpool campaign in the league and is also just three shy of his key pass tally.
Whether this sudden upturn in creative productivity is an improvement by the player or a tactical switch is up for debate, though either way a large slice of the credit must go to Klopp and his team of coaches.
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A noteworthy aspect of the match against Leeds was Jota shifting from his primary position in the centre of the attacking trident and switching places with Mane to some extent.
The Portuguese has only had two appearances for Liverpool which lasted at least 81 minutes – the time he was afforded at Elland Road – where he made fewer touches in the opposition penalty area.
This becomes apparent when looking at his pass charts from the victory over Leeds.
Jota made nine passes to Mane, more than he did to any other player, and he was to the left of the Reds’ number 10 for six of them.
The passes were not all perfect. One which he did make from the right of Mane in the six yard box was slightly behind his Senegalese colleague, leaving him to stretch for the ball and only being able to guide it over the bar.
And it will remain to be seen if this game from Jota proves to be a one-off borne out of the very specific man-to-man style of the opponent faced or if he will be a key creative cog within the team in the months ahead.
As he is the long-term future of the Liverpool attack, Klopp will certainly be aiming to make sure it is the latter.