Liverpool have made a free-scoring start to the Premier League season, with Sadio Mane back to his best and Mo Salah’s recent run of goals in 10 consecutive games. But their manager has had a tough question in his head since the start of the season – whether to pick Diogo Jota or Roberto Firmino in his front three.
Diogo Jota joined Liverpool from Wolves in September 2020 and recently completed a year at Anfield. The Portuguese striker enjoyed a successful first season with the club, scoring 13 times in 30 appearances. However, he wasn’t a regular starter for Jurgen Klopp’s side in his debut season as he managed to start in only 12 Premier League games in the 2020-21 campaign. Meanwhile, this time around, the 24-year-old has already made 10 appearances with six starts to his name and netted four times in the League. During the last few seasons, Firmino was the central striker in Klopp’s side, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane on either side of the Brazilian. Meanwhile this season, Jota has edged himself ahead of Firmino to get his name in the starting eleven alongside Salah and Mane.
Firmino is expected to be absent until mid-December. This latest setback is another reminder that the Brazilian is now in his 30s, and that he will eventually have to be replaced on a more permanent basis. A player so often praised for his uniqueness, phasing him out of the Liverpool side is an unenviable task. Jota has appeared to be the best possible solution, as the Portuguese international has been individually excellent, contributing plenty of goals. Despite this, he has never really linked up with the front three in the same way as Firmino.
Let’s take a look at their stats so far in the Premier League:
Jota is not an out-and-out striker and loves to drift towards the wider areas of the pitch and run past defenders with the ball. He is a very quick player, and playing him centrally does not optimize his potential to the fullest. He has been more effective running in from the wider areas on the pitch and also switches flanks when required.
Firmino is more of a link-up striker and likes to drop deep to receive the ball and play short passes with his teammates. It can be seen from the heatmap that despite playing as a striker, his average positioning is deeper. This season Firmino has averaged more touches per game compared to Jota’s, immediately suggesting a clear contrast in involvement. Over half of Firmino’s touches have come in the middle of the pitch, while a majority of Jota’s have been in the attacking third.
Jota’s pass map indicates that he has more involvement in the game from the left flank and has played more passes on the left side of the pitch. He also has a high xT from two short passes he played in the opposition’s penalty area.
From the above visual we can depict that Firmino has dropped deep to receive the ball and play quick side passes. He has also played several passes towards the wider regions on the pitch, and makes runs into the penalty area to receive the final ball into the penalty area. The number of short passes he has played in and around the penalty area indicates that he has a better link-up play, whereas Jota has a more direct approach towards the goal.
The shot map for Jota indicates that he has been able to get into great positions inside the penalty area to attempt a shot on goal. Jota has scored four goals so far in 10 games and has been effective in front of the goal. He has also attempted a few shots from outside the penalty area but has a majority of his shots from inside the box.
Firmino has played a lesser number of games than Jota, which is why he has a lower number of shots on goal. His shot map is similar to that of Jota, which indicates he has also been able to get into threatening positions with the smart runs he makes at the front and back post to be at the receiving end of the crosses Liverpool put into the box.
Attacking and Creativity Metrics:
The attacking and creativity stats for Jota indicate he has been much better than most of the players in the league. Jota has an xG of 0.52 per 90 minutes and has had 42.86% of his shots on target.
The attacking metrics of Firmino are similar to that of Jota, although the Brazilian has a higher xG per 90 of 0.63 but has a lower shot on target percentage. The biggest criticism aimed at Firmino is that he isn’t prolific enough, but he has even been finding the net more regularly than Jota this season. The Brazil international has six goals in 11 appearances and just five starts, compared to Jota’s five in 14 appearances.
Having two excellent players in Jota and Firmino, who can do a job against every team in the world, is a blessing for Klopp, but Liverpool suffered a big setback when Roberto Firmino, a creator as much as a scorer of goals, was ruled out for at least a month, with what Klopp described as a serious hamstring injury. With Firmino out injured well into December and possibly beyond, this is an ideal time for Jota to enjoy a prolonged run in the team, further showing Klopp why he should be first-choice. If he can fine-tune his game and add even more attributes on top of the movement and the goals, Liverpool will have another world-class attacker to call upon for the present and future. But with the African Cup of Nations coming up soon, Jota and Firmino may have to lead the attack for Liverpool, with Salah and Mane representing their nations at the tournament.