Heading his way – How Liverpool star Diogo Jota starred for Portugal vs Serbia

Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring for Portugal against Serbia.
Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring for Portugal against Serbia. (imago Images)

Liverpool ace Diogo Jota was the star as Portugal drew 2-2 vs Serbia

Portugal took on Serbia in one of the most evenly-matched high-profile games during the entire international break this month and Liverpool star Diogo Jota starred in the 2-2 draw. The Portuguese took on the Serbians after a 1-0 win against Azerbaijan in their first FIFA World Cup qualification game last week.

They were held to an exciting 2-2 draw despite scoring the first two goals of the game. The line-up was understandably changed quite a bit from their first game. Bruno Fernandes, Jose Fonte, and Cedric Soares were few of the big names that started on Sunday.

New kid on the block for Portugal – Liverpool star Diogo Jota

One of the most talked-about Portuguese players this season has been Liverpool winger, Diogo Jota. The 24-year-old joined Liverpool from Wolverhampton Wanderers for a hefty £45million fee. He looked worthy of every penny when he got off to a blazing start for the Reds.

He netted 5 goals in his 8 league games for the Reds and was slowly making a case to be a regular starter for the Reds. Sadly, it was only after his injury in December that the Liverpool team totally fell apart. But he is back now and he is firing again.

And the second half of 2020 was good for him in the sense that he got his first cap for Portugal when he played the full 90 minutes in their 4-1 UEFA Nations League win against Croatia in September. Since then, he has been pushing to be in the starting XI for Fernando Santos’ side.

How Portugal set up with Jota

Jota was back in the starting XI against Serbia. This was just his 4th start for Portugal and he would have known that time was running out for him to impress the coach to be a shoo-in for the UEFA Euros in the summer.

Portugal set out with an attacking 4-3-3 formation on paper, with Jota playing as a left-winger. Cristiano Ronaldo was playing as a target man, while Bernardo Silva was playing down the right flank. But as it often happens, the reality was different from what was written on paper. Image A shows the average position of the players during the match.

Image A. (WhoScored)

And as it is clear, Jota (number 17) was drifting very centrally, almost identical to Ronaldo’s position. The Liverpool forward is a versatile attacker who can play anywhere in the attacking line, but as evident in his tendencies against Serbia, he likes to play as a left inside-forward too.

His heatmap in Image B also verifies how he was taking touches in the central areas while also fulfilling his duties as a winger. Image C from the 8th minute of the game shows how Jota cut in centrally.

Image B. (SofaScore)

Jota (red circle) is running at the defence with the ball at his feet in a very central position, even more so than their striker, Ronaldo. He then spots the run of Bernardo Silva (white circle) who squares the ball back into the box for Ronaldo to sky it over the post. It was a great chance but one that they could not convert.

Image C.

Striker tendencies

The example above is seen in a more tangible form later on in the game. Jota scored two goals in the first half and both of them came via headers. While we can discuss the type of goal later on, we should look at how Jota was making runs inside the box like he was a No.9.

It was almost natural. The first goal, as visible in Image D, came via a cross from Silva (white circle), who found Jota at the far post. It was like seeing a poacher wait in the box to finish a chance rather than a winger who was slightly out of position. It just looked natural to Jota’s game.

Image D.

Now for the second goal, it was like deja-vu for the Serbian defence. Image E shows the build up for the 2nd goal. Look how far out wide Jota (red circle) is when the move is just beginning. Ronaldo (green circle) is currently the central striker for them.

Image E.

But that changes in a matter of seconds, as evident in Image F. Jota’s runs were terrifying Serbian defenders all game. And he made one of those darting runs (red circle) right in the middle of the box to be at the end of a floating Cedric Soares (white circle) cross.

Image F.

Fitting into the system

Jota was exchanging positions with Ronaldo all game long. It almost seemed at one point that Jota was the No.9 while the Juventus forward was playing as a winger. And this is something that made Portugal smooth in the attack.

Serbian players would have found it difficult to keep track of the players they are marking when they switch positions so seamlessly. Ronaldo and Jota both looked comfortable interchanging positions and the duo saw a lot of attacking action as well.

Image G. (SofaScore)

A perfect example of their interplay is also evident in the 48th minute of the game. Image H shows how Ronaldo (white circle) is playing as a left-winger and Jota (red circle) playing centrally as their forward.

Image K.

So with Ronaldo now 36 years old, Portugal should be thinking about the future. And Jota clearly showed against Serbia that he is fit enough to play as a No.9. Moreover, he can play as an inside-forward who cuts in to double up as a striker while also making runs down the wing when necessary.

So Jota, in essence, gives Santos two options. And that versatility is something any manager would love to have.

Striker’s instincts- heading and finishing

Another aspect about Jota that would impress the onlookers is his heading ability. Standing at just 1.78m in height, he was precise in his jumping and accurate with his heading to score his brace against the Serbians.

Just consider the fact that he outsmarted and outjumped a 1.95m tall Nikola Milenkovic for his second goal! Apart from his heading skills, his shooting is pretty deadly too. For example, he is ranked 3rd in shots on target percentage (% of shots that go on target) in the Premier League this season, as evident in Image L.

Image K. (fbref.com)

Verdict

Diogo Jota is quite simply the future of Portugal’s attack it seems. A player who is just 24 years of age, has already matured into being a very high-quality starter for both his club and country. Jota can play on the wings and down the middle.

And more than that, he can score goals for his team with unerring accuracy at times. Even in the game against Serbia, while he faded away in the 2nd half, he was arguably their best player on the pitch and did the most that he could with his superb brace. His team were deserving of a win but the referee cancelled out a completely legal winning goal from Cristiano Ronaldo right at the very end.

Nevertheless, Jota would be happy with his performance, and so would the Portugal manager. For a nation that has given the world prolific wingers such as Luis Figo, Eusebio, Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo, it seems that they can quite possibly add Jota to that list in the future. And with him scoring or assisting at least one goal in all his Portugal starts to date, there is no case to drop him from the XI.

Written by Aniket Rai

An ordinary football fan, doing what he loves.

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