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Diogo Jota’s move continues to work out perfectly for Liverpool, Wolves and of course the player himself

December 1, 2020

FROM the moment the £41m deal was concluded in September, Liverpool’s signing of Diogo Jota from Wolverhampton Wanderers seemed a smart – if pricey – piece of business.

Eyebrows were raised at the fee – which made Jota Liverpool costliest-ever attacker – but the logic behind the move was clear and sound: the Portuguese’s speed, energy, discipline and versatility would make him an ideal stand-in should any of the Reds’ first-choice front three be unavailable.

Just two and a half months into the 2020-21 season, though, and with his former club the next visitors to Anfield in the Premier League, Jota is proving himself capable of much more than a mere supporting role.

“Diogo comes from a good tactical culture that makes it more easy, but we can never forget that it still takes time for the body to adapt,” Liverpool assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders said recently of Jota. “That’s why we are careful – he is adapting to a new style and new ideas. But first and foremost, if you come into a great team, things become easier most of the time.

“He has these natural abilities that were already very important to our game idea. This is what made us want him so much.

“When a new player comes, it’s always how the player adapts to the team, its mentality, and how the team understands the player. But you can see that he has fire in each vein when he plays, so the adaptation process has been very natural.”

Jota’s assimilation to life at Anfield has been so rapid that he has already equalled a club record set almost three decades ago by Robbie Fowler. No player has taken fewer appearances to score their first five league goals for Liverpool, with Fowler and Jota tied on eight games, one fewer than Mohamed Salah and Dirk Kuyt.

With just five Premier League starts under his belt thus far for his new club, Jota is averaging a goal every 96.8 minutes. In the Champions League, where he has scored four times from only two starts – a figure bolstered by a hat-trick in November’s 5-0 win over Atalanta – he averages a goal every 51.5 minutes.

And amid a seemingly never-ending injury crisis that continues to rob Jurgen Klopp of some of his biggest stars, and as the Reds find themselves on the wrong end of marginal VAR calls more often than they can stomach, Jota has been invaluably dependable. His late strikes have been pivotal in securing victories over Arsenal and West Ham, while he also scored the winner against Sheffield United and notched his side’s only goal in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Brighton.

Klopp elected to rest Sadio Mane for the trip to Brighton, bringing Jota into the line-up on the left side of Liverpool’s attack. In the long run, it would take a lengthy continuation of Jota’s current form and prolific touch on front of goal for Klopp to consider making the 23-year-old Portugal forward a regular starter when everyone is fit. But even as an impact substitute – with his intelligent movement, flawless touch and ability to shoot quickly and accurately with either foot – Jota makes his considerable price tag look like great value.

It was a rare deal, too, which seems to have perfectly suited all parties. Liverpool get a high-calibre fourth option for their front line, Jota gets to test himself at one of the world’s biggest clubs and contest major honours, and Wolves receive a large fee for a player who, at the back end of last season, wasn’t even a guaranteed starter for them.

Jota will long be revered inside Molineux for his part in the club’s promotion campaign, scoring 17 goals at the Black Country club escaped the second tier as champions, and for his role in stabilising them as a Premier League force. His goals in wins over Chelsea and Manchester United will live long in the memory of Wolves fans.

But, following a spell of subpar form after the post-pandemic restart last term, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo would likely have ranked Jota fifth among his attacking options, behind Raul Jimenez, Adama Traore, Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto.

Following Jota’s departure, Neto and Podence have started regularly this season, each offering slightly less directness and speed than the now-Liverpool man but a little more creativity and guile.

Though Wolves will be wary of their former star when they travel to Anfield this weekend, sitting contentedly in seventh place, they will he happy with how the £41m sale has worked out. As will Liverpool. As will Jota.