Jack Hallows explores Roberto Firmino’s dip in form in recent months but backs him to bounce back once Liverpool’s attack gets into full flow.
He’s Klopp’s main man, to put it bluntly. While all of us have an idea of who the most important player is to Liverpool’s successes this season – Mané, Coutinho, Matip, Henderson are all often named – Firmino is undoubtedly the player Klopp values highest. It’s interesting then that he is capable of dividing opinion amongst fans just as much as he does.
A poor start to last season was turned around as he began to find his feet in English football, playing in the central false nine position and leading to Klopp claiming he was the best forward the Reds had available. Recent poor showings have, however, seen fans suggest he’s not good enough to lead the line for the Reds. So what’s going on with Bobby?
Inconsistency in front of goal
Last season, Firmino was widely regarded as one of the Reds best finishers in the squad. This was true to an extent, especially with the erratic nature of the likes of Lallana, Coutinho and Can in front of goal. With the rest all improving in that aspect of their games, however, Firmino has been fairly inconsistent when it comes to finishing his chances.
He’s scored some absolutely fantastic goals this season – his cheeky dink over Steve Mandanda and his sublime take and finish against Swansea to name a pair of standouts – but has also missed some howlers. In fact, his lack of output has certainly been concerning. In his first 10 Premier League appearances this season, Firmino scored five goals. In his last 11, he’s managed just three. Two of those coming in one match.
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It’s not as if he’s not been given the opportunities to score, he’s just been unable to finish them on a regular enough basis – and admittedly been unlucky at times. For comparison, Sadio Mané has 9 goals for the Reds this season, scoring with every three chances he’s presented with. Firmino on the other hand, scores one in six, netting eight league goals at a conversion rate of just 16%. He obviously still knows how to put the ball away and has scored 9 in 25 in all competitions – far from a terrible record – but there is no arguing that his tally should probably be far higher.
Positional changes and rotated personnel
Since Coutinho went down injured against Sunderland back in November, Firmino’s dip in form has been scarily evident. To cope with the loss of the little magician, Klopp pushed Firmino out wide, originally drafting in Origi to take up the central berth. While the Belgian managed an impressive run of five goals in five straight league games, the Reds attacking play just wasn’t the same. The fluidity that had previously been so consistently evident started to fragment and Firmino even began to look isolated out on the left, struggling to provide an outlet or an option for key passes.
The situation didn’t really get much better over January. Klopp was unable to call on Mané due to the African Cup of Nations and despite Coutinho returning, the magician hasn’t quite yet managed to hit full match fitness. While it would be silly to claim that Firmino can’t play without Mané or Coutinho or both – he scored plenty last season before Mané signed and with Coutinho out injured – it certainly would seem that the way the Brazilian likes to play is best complimented by Klopp’s preferred attacking line up front.
There is certainly a case to be made that perhaps, the Brazilian just hasn’t been in the right frame of mind the last month or so. Firmino was the victim of a burglary on December 22nd, before being arrested on drunk-driving charges just two days later. His court case for the drink-driving charges was inconveniently scheduled for the day of the Chelsea fixture, before being postponed 24 hours later and it comes as no real surprise that his performance against the Blues was poor. He simply just wouldn’t have been all there mentally – a calm and collected mental state being something that Klopp always emphasises the importance of.
It will be interesting to see whether the Brazilian manages an upturn in form now that his court case saga is over and with Coutinho and Mané both back to join him in the attack.
For me, there are no doubts over Firmino’s overall quality and his ability both on and off the ball is a huge part of Liverpool’s successes so far under Klopp. That being said, however, if he is to remain integral to Liverpool’s setup and style of play he needs to find some more consistency in his game and begin finishing his chances. There are 15 Premier League games left this season and if he features in all of those then personally, I’d love to see him finish the season with a goals tally of 15 or above.