How Diogo Jota can follow Sadio Mane’s footsteps with mentality made for Liverpool

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Diogo Jota may not have arrived with quite the same levels of fanfare as Thiago, but the £45 million signing is a perfect addition who can follow Sadio Mane‘s footsteps.

Thiago’s long and protracted transfer saga dominated the minds of supporters over the summer, to the point where the signing of a young Portuguese international almost crept under the radar.

But with a goal to cap the 3-1 win over Arsenal on his Premier League debut for the Reds, Diogo Jota announced that he is a player fit for Liverpool Football Club.

If Thiago represented a signing which broke Liverpool’s recent trend of targeting younger players laden with potential, the 23-year-old Jota represents a return to the norm, in far-from-normal times.

Over the previous two seasons at Wolves, Jota has been a consistent goal threat, with nine goals and three assists across 33 Premier League appearances in 2018/19, while chalking up seven goals across 34 outings last season.

Diogo Jota, right, has become a key man for Wolves (Martin Rickett/PA)

While those numbers show a slight dropoff in goal output in the league, it should be noted he was a key contributor to Wolves’ much-lauded European run last season, scoring nine goals across 14 games.

Jota’s confidence in Europe likely stems from the fact he had made eight appearances in the more prestigious Champions League three seasons earlier, while he was on loan at Portuguese giants Porto.

Experience and excellence in Europe are qualities Liverpool fans will appreciate, and with his first Portugal cap coming in 2019, he has now established himself as part of the national team.

Liverpool have undoubtedly secured a young player with a great deal of experience for his age who is clearly on the rise.

However, the moment which encapsulates the best of Jota, and one which Liverpool fans will enjoy the most, is his late game-winning goal against Man United in 2019.

Jota’s strike would send Wolves through to the FA Cup semi-finals, and it remains arguably the West Midlands side’s most famous goal of the last few years.

Speaking to This Is Anfield, The Athletic’s Wolves reporter Tim Spiers described Jota’s effort, in which he “left Luke Shaw on his backside,” as undoubtedly the “seminal goal of the Nuno era” thus far.

All of this suggests his big-game capability.

Yet although Jota’s best has been stunning, he is still awaiting consistency in his performances – Spiers describes his scoring record as “streakier than a pound of smoked bacon,” however noting he is still only 23.

In age profile and previous form, Jota resembles several of Liverpool’s previous signings under Jurgen Klopp, with Sadio Mane perhaps the most pertinent example.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 20, 2016: Southampton's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring his side's winning third goal against Liverpool during the FA Premier League match at St Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A player of explosive talent but patchy form at Southampton, Mane has developed into the uber-consistent performer we now know today.

Indeed, Pepijn Lijnders – familiar with the player since his time as a coach in Portugal – recently stated with conviction that Jota’s “technical level is on the same as our front three,” believing he will seamlessly fit into the team’s style.

Since Mane and Mohamed Salah have established themselves on Liverpool’s wings, Klopp has yet to have another player in his squad who can mirror both their skill and relentless mentality.

Divock Origi has been the go-to backup forward but he is arguably suited to a team with less possession – he is a more relaxed and languid contributor – while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can fill in out wide, but his best performances come from attacking midfield.

Salah and Mane not only provide a devastating attacking threat, but they have a relentless nature to keep pressing or defensively covering without the ball, both linking up play in possession and striking quickly on the transition.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 1, 2020: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (L) is tackled by Arsenal's Cédric Soares during the Football League Cup 4th Round match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. Arsenal won 5-4 on penalties after a goal-less draw. (Pic by Propaganda)

To have a player who can do all three of those unremittingly across a whole game is essential to Liverpool’s current approach, to take the kicks and the licks and still have the mentality to fearlessly and skilfully attack the game with and without the ball.

This is where Jota will shine through, not only through his skills but thanks to his mentality.

He may appear diminutive in stature, but like Mane and Salah he possesses a relentless mindset which belies his physical size.

Speaking to Goal’s Neil Jones, former Wolves sporting director Kevin Thelwell outlined the qualities which define him as a player.

“I used to say to him ‘Diogo, you’re British!’. That’s what he’s like in terms of his outlook and the way he behaves on the pitch,” Thelwell said.

“He’s got that bouncebackability. He can run into a brick wall but he’ll bounce straight back up, no problem. He shakes it off.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s substitute Diogo Jota during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Spiers describes similar abilities in more concise and imaginative terms, which will excite Liverpool fans: “At his best he was unstoppable. An electric whippet of skill, trickery and fearlessness.”

There is a snarling ruthlessness to Jota’s play at his best, evident in the way he nutmegged Shaw in that iconic moment, leaving him lying in a crumpled heap before powering into the box and smashing the ball into the top corner.

It is this aggressiveness which flows into all aspects of his game and led Lijnders to refer to him as “like a pressing monster, so he will fit in straight away.”

Indeed, Lijnders is believed to have provided key scouting insight into Jota’s character through his own knowledge and his contacts in Portugal.

If the reports were anything like Thelwell’s or Spiers’ descriptions, it is easy to imagine Klopp grinning from ear to ear – this is a player made for Liverpool’s intensive game style.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool players celebrate with goal-scorer Diogo Jota after he scores the third goal to make the score 3-1 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

As Jota’s early appearances for Liverpool have shown, he can immediately offer the team a decisive attacking threat, but like similar signings before him his best will come with time.

However, what Jota brings from day one is an attitude which embodies Klopp’s ‘fighting football’.

In short, he has a mentality made for Liverpool Football Club.

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