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Luka Jovic far from “failure”: the truth behind his performances at Frankfurt

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Critics will be quick to point to the lack of goals, but the Serbian’s qualities often go beyond the scoresheet

Eintracht Frankfurt v VfB Stuttgart - Bundesliga Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Luka Jovic is a quality player. Despite some outlets in Spain dubbing the return to Frankfurt as a “failure”, the truth is Jovic has provided numerous moments that exhibit his talent, despite playing less than desired.

It’s important to place context around the Serbian’s new environment. This Eintracht Frankfurt team is completely different to the team that Jovic was a part of just two seasons prior. There is a new talismanic striker in Andre Silva and a 3-4-2-1 system that plays to the strengths of Felipe Kostic and Amin Younes— two critical cornerstones to the team’s balance. Adi Hutter’s team are not idling in midtable, this Eintracht Frankfurt team have been battling for the Champions League spots all season. They currently sit above Borussia Dortmund.

Bundesliga.com

Jovic joined a successful and stable team, this was not a scenario where Jovic was called in to rescue their season. In reality, Frankfurt were doing Jovic a favor — providing him a spot in a bid to help him resuscitate his career while supplementing their depth. Adi Hutter was not going to pass on a player of Jovic’s caliber, but has had to be careful not to upset the balance of a team with a winning rhythm.

The Eintracht Frankfurt manager relies on Jovic as an impact substitute and has called on him for the occasional start. In his 11 Bundesliga appearances, or 419 minutes, Jovic has been able to display some of the qualities which attracted Real Madrid to his signing in the first place.

Right Place, Right Time

The narrative around Jovic has been around the lack of goals. He has yet to score in his last 8 matches. As is so often the case with Jovic, he has just missed that little bit of luck. He is getting into the right positions at the right time, but the final ball is found wanting. His teammates either do not see the pass or choose another option.

Take the example of the Bayern Munich game, where Kamada scored the opening goal, but Jovic ended up in the same exact spot – free of any mark – ready to clip the goal in himself:

Jovic astutely positions himself between both Alaba and Boateng before patiently drifting off Alaba’s shoulder as the ball moves down the flank to Kostic. By slowing his run down, Jovic creates a degree of separation between himself and Alaba. When Kostic lifts his head, he is aiming his pass for Jovic. Kamada’s late arriving run was not tracked and thus it was Kamada who ended up earning the reward on a 0.50 expected goal opportunity. This type of action, not accounted for in the Serbian’s stats, has been a consistent theme during Jovic’s return spell at Frankfurt.

In the same game, Frankfurt sliced through the Bayern defense early on with Jovic again finding the open space in front of goal.

Kamada had a window of time to slot a pass across goal for Jovic to dispatch into the back of the net, but instead opted to continue dribbling towards the byline for an eventual cut-back. Given Luka Jovic’s aforementioned luck, there would of be a third example, from the same game, where fans of the Serbian were pulling their hair out screaming for his teammates to pass.

Amin Younes found himself on the ball in the box with Jovic again free of his mark with space and time to finish the play. Instead of slotting across to the free Luka Jovic, Amin Younes went for the shot and the play broke down.

The analytics industry has yet to develop a measurement for the effectiveness of off ball movement (maybe they have but, it has not yet been publicly shared), but Luka Jovic would likely be in the top percentage for strikers. When compared against other similar strikers such as Alexander Isak, Joao Felix, Borja Mayoral, or even Andre Silva – Jovic is in the 96th percentile for goal-created actions from shots and dribbles. It’s clear the Serbian gets into dangerous areas. Extend his total minutes in the Bundesliga this year, which amounts to 4.7 games, and extrapolate it across a full season, the end production would undoubtedly come.

Fbref

In a surprising feature to Jovic’s game, he has proven to be a strong dribbler. He attempts around 4 dribbles per game and usually completes 3. Data from FBref has Jovic in the top 10 (9th overall) for dribble success % in the Bundesliga. Albeit, a smaller sample size than most of his counterparts on the dribbling leaderboard, Jovic has proven to have quick feet and can move the ball out of tight spaces.

Data from FBref, powered by Statsbomb
FBref

Near Misses and Quality Shots

For Jovic to be failing, he would have to be ineffective. Adi Hutter has no role for ineffective players in a team that is battling tooth and nail for a Champions League spot. Against Julian Nagelsmann’s 2nd placed, RB Leipzig, Jovic came on for the final 20 minutes of the match. Despite Leipzig dominating possession, Jovic still managed to exploit their disciplined system with a bulldozing run down a central channel while on a counterattack. Jovic gets the ball in the box and shoots with his weaker left foot. The chance just goes wide as Jovic failed to get his feet set, given the speed with which he was moving. What should be highlighted is that the Serbian helped create the opportunity with his movement and generated more than half of Frankfurt’s xG through one shot:

Understat

That’s Jovic making an impact. In nearly every appearance he has had for Frankfurt this season, he has created dangerous opportunities or opened space through his off ball movement.

In the game against Stuttgart, with the result in the balance, Jovic found himself on the end of two near misses.

Maybe with ever elusive elixir known as confidence, as well as a run of consecutive starts in the team, Jovic may have buried one of those two chances. The scissor-kick like volley in the 71st minute (the first clip) was denied only by the deflected header of Borna Sosa. These are the fine margins that Jovic has been playing against and sooner or later his luck will come good. When Jovic gets a shot on target, it usually ends up in the back of the net. On a per 90 basis, Jovic’s shot on target/goal conversion is 0.50. Meaning for every two shots taken on goal, one ends up in the back of the net.

Deceptive Quality

Now forget the dangerous off ball movement and forget the near misses, even without those two items Jovic has demonstrated quality in other areas. Like his first stint at Frankfurt, Jovic has played primarily as a second striker, meaning he plays just behind a pure #9. Often, he has played with Andre Silva. This is purposeful from Adi Hutter. Luka Jovic likes to drop deep into midfield to connect play. His subtle lay-offs and delicate one touch passes serve as the connective tissue between the midfield and attack. He operates much better in a front two. One could argue that his difficulty integrating at Real Madrid came down to the similar tendencies between he and Benzema. A duo of Jovic-Benzema never clicked as they both want to drop and connect. Given the differing characteristics, a Mariano-Jovic partnership may have actually worked better and could have been an interesting tactic for rotations or in-game system changes.

Many think of Jovic as a penalty-box poacher, but that’s not his game — at least not the majority of his game. His passing range and ability to connect with teammates has been a hallmark of both his stints at Frankfurt. Against Stuttgart, he morphed into KDB. Take a look at the moment Jovic drops deep into midfield:

The Serb picks up the ball, turns, and plays a dagger pass that breaks two lines and feeds Kostic in the box. To further magnify the brilliance of that moment – Jovic pulled off his visionary pass with his weaker left foot.

Jovic has attributes that normally wouldn’t correlate with his playing profile. For instance his speed, or rather, his ability to change gears while in full flight. Not even race-runners Alphonso Davies or David Alaba could keep up:

(top right of the video – look at Jovic go!)

In his limited time vs Leipzig, he showcased not just speed but his overall body control and strength. It did not matter how many defenders were crawling all over the Serbian’s back, his low center of gravity and bulky frame allowed him to easily retain possession and shield the ball from vulture-like defenders.

Summary

Over the weekend, Jovic played as a starter against Union Berlin. He again played slightly behind Andre Silva. The Portuguese striker would manage to bag two goals in the game, again drawing the plaudits, but Jovic was involved in orchestrating the goals. The Serbian had two “pre-assists”, the pass before the assist, both of which were critical in the build-up of the goal. The narrative for those not watching the match, will be that Jovic failed to score for the 8th consecutive game. In reality, those who watch the Serb, can easily identify his class. His work often goes unnoticed on the stats board. This is the resounding truth — a truth that has been consistent throughout his last few months in Germany.

There is a likely scenario where Jovic may never earn a second chance with Real Madrid. Some may fairly argue that his value has not been bolstered by his January move. Though, any scout taking interest in Jovic’s game will find a niche striker, whom placed in the right system and environment, will find that the career-defining season at Eintracht Frankfurt the first time around was no fluke.