Martin King discusses Roberto Firmino’s fitness and whether or not fatigue is restricting the Brazilian’s typically terrific gameplay.
Two weeks ago, many a Liverpool fan breathed a sigh of relief and satisfaction as a wish of theirs was met. It was the sight of Roberto Firmino having finally chopped off his top-knot hairstyle, which initially received plenty of fanfare a few months earlier.
In came a more decent and less attention grabbing haircut – which was probably a more welcomed choice – but along with it came an unwelcome realisation for Reds fans: Firmino’s early-season form was slowly fading away.
Early signs of this were evident in Liverpool’s away trip to Southampton in the Premier League, a match they were frustrated to see end in a goalless draw. Fans and experts brushed Firmino’s performance aside, reasoning that his involvement for Brazil in a two-week international break, that came prior to his club side’s clash at Saint Mary’s, demanded too much from him physically.
What followed was a home match against Sunderland, which Liverpool won 2-0 but again, with Firmino struggling to stand out. The general consensus after that match was that none of Jürgen Klopp’s players were at their convincing best anyway, so why expect Firmino to have been any different?
However, when the Brazilian forward displayed the same poor level of performance against Bournemouth the following week – a game Liverpool, despite losing, largely dominated – concerns began to rise.
Bobby goes MIA
For Firmino, the 2016/17 season will remain a very significant one in his Liverpool career.
Besides being his second at the club and a genuine opportunity for the £29 million man to kick on, following a first season that was more of a settling period than anything else, this season will be remembered as the one Firmino established himself as Liverpool’s chief gegenpresser.
Klopp continued with the Brazilian in a false-nine role and thanks to a dogged determination as well as an abundant flow of energy, Firmino combined the roles of being Liverpool’s creative force on the ball and leading the press off it.
That would see him record five goals and three assists after ten league appearances, with the Anfield faithful giving him the name ‘Bobby’ to show just how much Merseyside has finally become his home.
However, both goals and assists have dried up for the former Hoffenheim striker in the past six games and he has become less noticeable for his true quality up-front.
His movement and work rate off the ball is still existent but far less effective than it was earlier in the season, on it there are occasional flashes of brilliance but those have been too few and far between to see Firmino impact matches, easily highlighting the unfortunate fact the striker is missing in action.
Possible reasons behind decline
Firstly, for the superstitious bunch, Firmino’s decline in form has nothing at all to do with his cutting of the top-knot.
Secondly, there are a number of more pressing factors that could be playing a part, none more so than – you probably guessed it – fatigue.
Playing the role Firmino does demand a lot of fitness and tireless energy and the Brazilian has already proven that he has those qualities in abundance on more than one occasion this season. He even explained, in a recent interview, how he just can’t stand still on the pitch as he is constantly chasing down opposition defenders and looking to create chances once ball possession is retained.
As much as that counts as a strength in his profile, it does have its side effects and fatigue could be one of those that are currently affecting Firmino.
Another possible factor could be the forward’s change of position, from central striker to wide playmaker, a move that was instigated by the injury of fellow Brazilian Philippe Coutinho. Perhaps Firmino had established his strengths in a central position for so long that moving him out wide would only limit his influence as he would have to re-adapt to the change.
Adding to that another change that Liverpool’s number 11 could still be struggling to get used to in a lack of winter breaks in England and it is clear that the possible reasons behind his current form are more simple than complex.
What does Klopp do?
Speaking to Sky Sports, via the Metro, about Firmino, following Monday night’s Merseyside derby win at Everton, Klopp said.
“It’s not the most easy moment for him, but he’s so important, always in the game for us, always able to make something happen.”
Therefore, the answer to the aforementioned question is to keep faith, as he’s always done, with his player.
That is because, in addition to being fully aware of Firmino’s current situation, Klopp understands that the striker is still an important player for Liverpool and is only going through a spell in his season that many a professional footballer is likely to go through more than once in their career.
The best solution to Firmino’s concerning form doesn’t necessarily lie in dropping him to the bench because although it may help him recuperate, it would only weaken the manager’s starting line-up.
Stick with a good player and you’re likely to be rewarded.
Considering Firmino doesn’t seem a million miles away from that moment of reward – as a number of goal-bound efforts in the second half at Everton would’ve rightly proved – it would only make sense for Klopp to persist with him.