The Case for Diogo Jota
Diogo Jota (£6.6m) turned the heads of FPL managers with his excellent Champions League hat-trick in Bergamo at the start of the month. He was Liverpool’s best player on the night, with the notoriously porous Atalanta defence unable to deal with his runs in behind. Fans immediately began to speculate on whether Jota might displace the goal-shy Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) from Liverpool’s first eleven.
Managers did not jump on Jota after the performance – there were other more tempting options with better fixtures and injuries to address, whilst the inevitability of Covid infections necessitates a more careful transfer strategy. This is not to mention the most obvious issue of all – the significant concerns over Jota’s regularity of starts.
Despite these worries, Jota has started four of the last six league games for Liverpool, scoring four goals. Two of his starts came in the absence of Sadio Mane (£12.1m) and then Mohamed Salah (£12.2m) but he started the other matches alongside the regular front three in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The change from Liverpool’s regular 4-3-3 formation bodes well for Jota owners, and it seems likely that the 4-2-3-1 will be used at opportune moments this season. It allows Firmino to operate creatively from a deeper position without such a goalscoring burden, leaving Salah or Jota to operate through the middle. There is also a sense that Jota has forced this change. The likes of Xherdan Shaqiri (£6.4m), Divock Origi (£5.2m), and Takumi Minamino (£6.0m) have looked a class below Liverpool’s front three, whose starting places were never in doubt. But Jota looks more than merely a backup, as the early data suggests.
Jota has been afforded four big chances since his first start against Aston Villa in Gameweek four. It’s an impressive amount for a player at his price point, equal to Bruno Fernandes’ (£10.8m) and Jack Grealish’s (£7.6m) four big chances during the six-game period and more than Marcus Rashford (£9.5m), Raheem Sterling (£11.5m), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.6m), and Kevin De Bruyne (£11.6m) have managed. Jota also had impressive 26 penalty area touches across the last six gameweeks, which is more than Son Heung-min (£9.5m), Jamie Vardy (£10.2m), Harry Kane (£11.0m), Bruno, and Aubameyang. His 11 shots in the box also puts him in good company whilst he has created two big chances, a stat bettered by only 13 players.
When looking at these stats, it’s important to reiterate that Jota is only 6.6. His competition is not Son, Bruno, and Sterling – it’s Phil Foden (£6.5m), Jarrod Bowen (£6.3m), and James Ward-Prowse (£6.0m). No regular below 7.0 can better Jota’s 5.3 points per match whilst Jota has had comfortably more penalty touches, shots in the box, and big chances than any comparably priced rival.
The Champions League
Jota’s Champions League form gives a further indication of his potential. He has four goals from two starts and one substitute appearance, outscoring Salah (2 goals and 1 assist) and Mane (1 goal and 1 assist) in practically the same number of minutes. Jota’s average of 2.7 shots per game is more than Salah and Mane have managed whilst his xG of 2.7 is close to the combined total of Salah, Mane, and Firmino in this season’s Champions League. Obviously, the scale is too small for any substantive conclusions but it tallies with the findings from the early league stats: Jota is getting a lot of big chances and taking many of them.
The nature of Jota’s starts so far are also noteworthy. It is not surprising to see him play against Sheffield United or Midtjylland, but Klopp’s readiness to start Jota away to Manchester City and Atalanta suggests he trusts the Portuguese attacker in the big games. It’s simply not something Klopp has done with any other attacker outside his favoured three during the past two seasons, unless he has been forced to by injuries. We may need to start looking at Jota as the fourth member of Liverpool’s attack rather than as the premier back up to the big three.
It is however early days. When Thiago Alcântara (£5.9m) and Jordan Henderson (£5.4m) return from injury there will be less temptation to play a 4-2-3-1. And as good as Jota can be, he is historically a form-based player and a frustrating fantasy hold. It took him until the 15th gameweek of the 2018-2019 season to score his first Premier League goal, although he ended the season on a respectable nine goals and eight assists. Jota was even more inconsistent last season, scoring only seven league goals.
A Risk Worth Taking
Despite this, it’s difficult to ignore Jota. The Champions League top scorer already has eight goals in only ten appearances across all competitions and has so far flourished in a more attacking Liverpool side. Jota will start from the bench some gameweeks but his price reflects that, and the eight points he scored in a 20 minute cameo against West Ham illustrate that substitutes in the league’s most attacking teams can score well, as a host of Manchester City attacking options have shown in previous seasons. It’s also probable that Jota’s presence will allow Klopp to rotate Salah, Mane, and Firmino more often. This will be particularly important in a truncated season, with Klopp criticising Liverpool’s hectic schedule earlier this week. In a season of likely unparalleled rotation, Jota seems a risk worth taking. And if one of Liverpool’s big three were to get injured, Jota would become practically essential.