Demetri Smith takes a look at how Roberto Firmino has progressed since signing for Liverpool last season.
Liverpool came away from the Emirates against a depleted Arsenal side with all three points for only the second time in 16 years with Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane taking the plaudits from pundits and fans alike. However, one man stood out to me, our ‘striker’ Roberto Firmino.
Rewind a year ago and Firmino was starting his first game for Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers in the very same stadium we played in on Sunday. It was a lacklustre performance in a 0-0 draw between the two sides and whispers of ‘flop’ from the Liverpool faithful were already brewing.
Now, fast-forward a year and Firmino has established himself as one of the most in-form strikers in the Premier League with only Harry Kane (14) and Sergio Aguero (18) contributing more in terms of goals and assists to his team. Under Jürgen Klopp we’ve seen him take teams apart with the help of Coutinho and Lallana especially. After looking as if he was going to be another that struggled to cope with the demands of Premier League football, the Brazilian has cemented his place in the Liverpool first team and today’s performance against Arsenal showed me why.
A Klopp team is always demanding of one thing: pressing. However what makes Klopp one of the best managers in world football is how his teams press. Klopp’s teams will cut off angles and use pressing as a tactic to get further up the pitch and take the life out of their opponents, Klopp calls it “gegenpressing” and Firmino implements it perfectly.
When playing for us, Firmino will instantly cut off channels so defenders have to clear it up the pitch and Liverpool regain possession. If he isn’t able to cut off the channels he will relentlessly chase down whoever is in possession of the ball. It has many advantages: it lets the opposing defenders know that they have to speed up when in possession which leads to mistakes as seen on Sunday by Chambers and Holding on a few occasions.
It also increases the intensity of his own teammates. It’s naturally easier to work hard when you see your striker is pumped up and is sprinting after every lost cause, opposed to someone like Mario Balotelli who leaves his teammates frustrated with his lack of work rate and intensity. A lot of fans don’t always see this but it’s a large part of the reason that he is one of the first names on the team sheet. Premier League defenders know that regardless of form, if they are playing against Roberto Firmino they are in for a tough game.
On the ball Firmino’s game has drastically improved, he is no longer careless in possession and is more aware of his teammates whereabouts whilst on the ball. This has contributed to his all round game as he can now hold it up like a real striker whilst shielding it away from his opponents which allows his teammates to make runs and get into goal-scoring positions. That’s why he so important to the team; his movement and play allow the rest of the team to play better and that is why he is favoured over natural strikers like Danny Ings and Divock Origi so often. All of this has contributed to making him one of the most exciting newcomers to the Premier League and long may it continue.
Looking into the future, we need to see a higher level of consistency from the Brazilian if he wants to hit the world-class bracket that he and Coutinho are trying so hard to break into. 11 goals and 11 assists in his first season in England is a great feat but that also must be improved on if he wants to establish himself amongst the league’s best. With his tireless work rate and the help of Klopp I have no doubt that Roberto Firmino can eventually become one of the league’s best players.