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how Diogo Jota became irresistible at Liverpool

In Olympic form, the Portuguese striker from Liverpool returns to the country this Tuesday (9 p.m.), at Benfica Lisbon, in the quarter-final first leg of the Champions League.

A broad smile, a hand behind the ear to better hear the roar of Anfield then, quickly, the finger pointed at Trent Alexander-Arnold, the setter, as if to say: “You again.“Head scorer after 20 minutes of play, Diogo Jota relieved Liverpool against Watford last Saturday (2-0). An image that has become ordinary this season, with 20 goals in 40 matches. But there was nothing inevitable about it. The Portuguese has long been confined to a role as a winger, notably at Wolverhampton, where he spent three high-flying seasons before Liverpool cracked down, check for €44 million, in the summer of 2020. And accentuated his metamorphosis .

It has always been clear that Diogo is not a pure winger. He is a centre-forward who can defend and play on both sides.

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp on Diogo Jota

It has always been clear that Diogo is not a pure winger, nuanced his coach, Jürgen Klopp, this Saturday. He is a centre-forward who can defend and play on both sides. Thank goodness he played for us in all three positions and was always very good.“It must be said, when Jota arrives at the Reds, he discovers an English champion club for the first time in two decades. And carried by his attacking trio: Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino. Jota presents himself as the luxury joker behind the first two. Finally, it is the place of center forward, that of Firmino, that he will steal. Not so surprising.

Firmino’s game vision, finishing as a bonus

If he has often been perceived as a winger, Jota is nonetheless, like Salah and unlike Firmino, a formidable finisher. As comfortable with the right foot as with the left, he has above all an extraordinary head game for his height (1m78). Of his 9 goals with Portugal, 5 were headed. This season he has scored 4 goals this way in the Premier League. Nobody does it better. “It’s incredible“, raved the former defender and consultant of BT Sports, Rio Ferdinand. “He is one of the smartest players in the Premier Leaguepraised ex-Chelsea striker Gianfranco Zola.

This is a quality that Jota shares with Firmino. “He reads the game very quickly“, already underlined Klopp last November. Jota’s vision of the game is allied less to his passing, and more to his placement or his runs, which will either lead to a deep service from a teammate or disrupt the defense and free up space for Salah, Mané and Company. The Portuguese also hastechnical qualities(Klopp) which allow him to pick up and play between the lines, as Firmino loves to do.

It is therefore a slightly retouched costume that Jota has endorsed. A year and a half and 70 matches after his arrival with the Reds, he acquired automatisms with Salah and Mané, but also with the ultra-offensive side Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. “He is the player we imagined him to become, and even a little better than that“, judged Jürgen Klopp.

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A lackluster career in Portugal

Add to that his defensive work mentioned above, so precious in the “heavy metal” football dear to Klopp, made of intense pressing when the ball is lost, and you have Liverpool’s new lethal weapon, at the dawn of a trip to… Portugal. Fate wants 25-year-old Jota to shine brightly in “his” country. It is however not a high-sounding name.

He had only a season and a half in pros at the modest club of Paços de Ferreira before Atlético de Madrid bought him for 7 M €, in 2016. He was then loaned to Porto, his city native. But no one is a prophet in his country. Among the Dragons, Jota does not leave a big mark in a virgin title season. He explodes at Wolverhampton, then in English D2, which buys him back from Atlético where he will have played… zero matches.

The Jota that Benfica will meet, this Tuesday in the Champions League quarter-final first leg (9 p.m.), has nothing to do with the pre-Wolverhampton Jota. Until recently, criticism was legion in Portugal on his case. He was criticized for the classic syndrome of the successful player in the club, but not so much in the selection. An anomaly partially rectified during the play-offs at the 2022 World Cup, with a goal and an assist in two matches played at home. At least Benfica can’t say they weren’t warned.

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