Aaron Curry explains why Roberto Firmino is better as a centre-forward than he is as an attacking midfielder.
Liverpool signed Roberto Firmino from Bundesliga outfit, Hoffenheim over a year ago now and the Brazilian’s career has taken on a continuous upward spiral as a result of his will to improve his game. Whether this be his positional play, technical ability or physical presence, fans certainly have a lot to admire.
Initially, when ex-manager Brendan Rodgers signed him, it seemed to be another typical signing. He failed to impress in his first couple of months – sometimes not even earning a starting place. He didn’t make his first start until the third game of the season, but even in these circumstances, he was in and out of the team on a regular basis.
The £29 million man was underwhelming up until the point that Jürgen Klopp took up the reins at the club. Known for his impressive man-management, the German manager clearly tinkered and adjusted aspects of Firmino’s game. The most significant aspect being the transition from being a number 10, to a conventional number 9, to a false 9.
He was brought in as a centre attacking midfielder, but Klopp recognised that, with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana also wanting to play in this role, it made it difficult to fit everyone in. Putting a square peg in a round hole, so to speak.
The first time Firmino made an appearance under Klopp was in a Football League Cup clash with Premier League counterpart, Bournemouth. He played in his standard attacking midfield role, in behind Divock Origi. It was not until the next game when we travelled to Stamford Bridge that he earned a start as a striker. I don’t think it was a coincidence that we won comfortably, either.
From this game onwards, he began to play more and more often as a central striker but Klopp was undoubtedly still trying to figure out what worked best. Formations such as 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1 and 4-1-4-1 were all used throughout Klopp’s 2015/16 campaign, wherein Firmino often starred as the striker.
Towards the end of the season, the likes of Origi and Sturridge played up to, with Firmino dropping back into his natural number 10 position. He ended the season with 11 goals and 9 assists in all competitions, according to Whoscored.com. He also completed an average of 2.2 key passes per game, as well as 1.75 dribbles. Impressive for a debut season.
After last season’s highs, Firmino was struck with a personal low as he was not selected for the Brazilian Copa America squad. This meant he was grounded at Melwood where he trained for much longer than most of the other senior players, giving him time to work on and adapt the false 9 role he would become accustomed to.
Then came the signing of Sadio Mané which ultimately created the fluid, deadly and dynamic trio alongside Coutinho and Firmino. Pushing him into a centre-forward role, Klopp has managed to get the most out of Firmino.
Registering five goals and one assist so far this season in 11 appearances, according to Whoscored.com, the 25-year-old has almost reached half the number of goals scored last season. Not to mention impressive aspects of his game improving – such as him winning 1.3 aerial duels per match. This compared to 0.3 in the Premier League alone last season clearly highlights improvements.
He functions best as a false 9 – interchanging positions throughout the match with Mané and Coutinho. This adds an element of surprise to Klopp’s gengenpressing system, which is always a nightmare for any centre-half.
Firmino is recognised as a key element in Klopp’s system, as he allows for the fluid interchange of play, along with creating space and chances for his teammates. Not to mention his silky skills, he will certainly be a player to watch, not only in the short term but also in Liverpool’s bright future.