Calls on social media to solve our goalscoring woes by ‘simply’ axing Raul Jimenez and replacing him with a fox in the box has certainly left me baffled.
We should all know by now that Nuno expects his number nine to lead the line and link the play, a fox in the box will never suit our 3-4-3 system.
Besides, Raul’s three goals and five assists (if you count the penalty he won versus Spurs) suggests the lack of clinical edge and creativity in the final third can’t be blamed on the Mexican.
In a system where the striker’s primary job isn’t to score goals, it’s pivotal the inside forwards chip in. Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Diogo Jota provided an impressive 31 league goals and 23 assists between them last season.
It’s not helped that Cav was injured until the end of September, while Adama Traore appears to be a very effective super sub; I’m not sure £18million was quite intended for that purpose.
This brings me to Costa and Jota. They’ve largely had the inside forward positions pinned down this term, so let’s take a look at how the two compare (the statistics are based on per game).
The former Benfica and Monaco man actually shows up well, if not a little frustrating in a couple of areas.
For shooting, Costa is averaging more shots compared to last season, up from 1.2 to 1.5. His numbers are better for both shooting outside of the box and in the penalty area.
The Portugal international is also dribbling more, up from 3.2 to 3.3, although there’s far more unsuccessful dribbles in 2018/19.
Possession loss leaves a lot to be desired, with unsuccessful touches and being dispossessed increasing by roughly 33% from last season.
For passing, the 24-year-old is averaging nearly six more a match, while the success rate is up from 81.9% to 83.4%, however key passes are down by 40%.
Verdict: No goals or assists is obviously not good enough, but it’s pleasing to see that Costa isn’t shying away and is willing to get on the ball and take on his man, spot a pass or have a shot.
After a slow start to the campaign, you sense Costa is improving week on week. Since Crystal Palace away at the start of October, Costa’s shooting, key passing and dribbling numbers have all steadily increased.
His inability to keep hold of possession is frustrating, especially when under the cosh, like at Arsenal, but I feel it’s only a matter of time until he bursts into life.
Hide behind the sofas, the numbers are as horrific as Jota’s performances (I take no pleasure in saying that).
Shooting has decreased from 2.7 to 1.5, with penalty area efforts down by 50%.
Dribbling isn’t much better, 2.7 up against last season’s 3.7, while you’d think unsuccessful touch and possession loss, combined, decreasing from 5.3 to 3.4 would hint at some encouragement. Don’t be fooled. Jota is simply not getting involved – and that is the most worrying aspect.
This is further heightened by the passing statistics – down by a massive 10 a game. Key passes have also fallen by 33%.
Verdict: Jota is bereft of confidence and we can only hope a spell on the bench will do him good.
Looking at the numbers, they confirm what I suspected. Too often we’re seeing Jota failing to run at his man, play one of those delightful little through balls (think Reading away for Cav’s goal) or show a calmness and clinical edge in front of goal.
It’s sad to see, as when in full flow, the little maestro reminds me a lot of Eden Hazard, and has the potential to play at the highest level.
But for now, I would bring on Traore as first sub and give Jota the last 10 minutes at best.
Nuno went with a front three of Cav, Raul and Costa against Spurs and Arsenal and this is the way to go for now.
Cav has made a fine return, scoring against Southampton and the Gunners. I genuinely believe Cav is the full package; pace, power, goals, assists and composure, which Costa doesn’t always have and Jota certainly doesn’t at the moment.
Come the end of the season, I can see Cav and Raul notching up 15-20 goals between them – the same for assists.
If Costa can convert his promising numbers into goals and assists, we could be looking at a push for seventh and probable Europa League football. If not, we’ll have to settle for midtable (no bad thing of course) or hope for the unpredictable Traore to step up or Jota to rediscover last season’s form.