Attacking Midfielder | Wolves | Portugal
Part wide forward, part No.10 and self-styled on former Atletico Madrid team-mate Antoine Griezmann, Diogo Jota is the perfect fit for the idiosyncrasies of Wolves’ 3-4-3 formation, at his best when sneaking in behind the main striker to make late, great runs that have a knack of ending up with the ball hitting the back of the net.
The Portuguese attacker can create chances too but scoring is what his performances for Wolves have largely been judged upon, helping fire them to the Premier League last season with one of the most dominant Championship campaigns seen in the history of the competition. Ruben Neves certainly helped with that, but it was the boy Nuno Espirito Santo brought to the west Midlands from Porto who finished up as the club’s top scorer for 2017/18.
2018 has been…
Very solid. It’s not easy for a 22-year-old to carry a club’s promotion hopes on his shoulders, especially when they’ve just moved to a second division as uniquely intense as the Championship, but that’s exactly what Jota did during the first half of 2018. Seven goals in 18 games was enough to get Wolves over the line and into the Premier League, picking up the slack from Leo Bonatini after the turn of the year saw his scoring form spectacularly nose dive.
The Premier League though, as it has for Wolves in general, has proved much more of a struggle for the versatile attacker. Jota failed to find the net until his 14th appearance despite having a capable centre-forward to play off in Raul Jimenez, and although there’s been an uplift in output recently the young Portuguese has struggled to make his speed and sharpness really count in the top flight - often becoming an isolated and ineffective figure on the left-hand side.
That’s probably why at the end of last season, when the senior squad were preparing for the World Cup in Russia, Jota was left behind to skipper the Portugal U21s team. Not that he’s let himself down in that age group; from five outings with the armband in 2018, the Wanderers star bagged four goals and two assists.
Simply put, and this is being put probably a bit too simply, bringing the netting prowess he showed in the Championship to the Premier League. Easier said than done, of course, or else Lewis Grabban would be Manchester City’s next club-record signing, but firepower will be vital to Wolves’ hopes of a solid season in the top flight.
On top of that, the other aspects of Jota’s game have greatly diminished as well; on per-match metrics he was the seventh-most prolific dribbler in the Championship last season, yet has managed less than one each game this time around. Jota needs to rediscover the ability to drive at the opposition with the ball if his development is to continue its current trajectory.
A first cap for Portugal is surely a must for 2019 as well, whether that’s Euro 2020 qualifying or the semi-finals of the Nations League, especially if he’s to keep pace with the likes of Goncalo Guedes, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva who are becoming key members of Fernando Santos’ starting XI.