Roberto Firmino: A hybrid of modern football

Jack Hallows explores why Roberto Firmino is comparable to Thomas Muller and how the Brazilian’s numerous footballing traits make him a perfect example of the modern game. 

Thomas Muller is often viewed as one of the worst best footballers to ever grace the European stage.

The German forward often looks uncoordinated on the ball and is nowhere near the best technically or athletically but what he does have is intelligence.

Muller is so good at playing the role he does for both FC Bayern Munich and the German national team that he was given his own term – the Raumdeuter.

What’s a Raumdeuter?

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Defined by Squawka as a ‘space investigator’ a Raumdeuter is predominantly a winger/forward who uses their game intelligence to seemingly drift harmlessly into space, before turning said space into a weapon and poaching goals and creating chances for teammates.

Without taking anything away from Roberto Firmino’s technical ability, the Brazilian is genuinely a very similar footballer.

While a much better footballer than Muller in my opinion – the Brazilian’s first touch, dribbling ability and passing range are far superior to the German – he also possesses many of the same attributes. Interestingly then, Firmino is a true footballing hybrid, not fitting perfectly into just one category of footballer.

Raumdeuter qualities – Intelligence, movement and vision

Where the argument for Firmino to be seen as a Raumdeuter is based comes when you look at the work he does off the ball.

The Brazilian’s movement is genuinely excellent when the Reds are on the attack and this is especially evident when played in the centre of the pitch.

His ability to take up a starting position alongside the opposition number 6, drifting in between the lines of Liverpool’s midfield and attack, before ghosting away from his man and bursting late into the box is why – despite being only 5′11 – he scores so many headers and a lot of his goals involve capping off smart team moves.

Firmino isn’t a typical striker by any definition of the word and is much more befitting of the term ‘forward’ due to his versatility.

Like Muller, he can operate on either wing, as a number 9 and behind a recognised striker – and it’s this ability to start anywhere but still manage to get himself into dangerous positions that sees him befitting of being compared to a Raumdeuter.

For example, against West Brom on Sunday, Firmino started on the right flank but had three shots across the 90 minutes – all from the left-hand side of the opposition goal.

His first effort that flashed across the face of Ben Foster’s goal in the first half after being sent through by Coutinho saw the Brazilian drift from right to central, before darting left into a position that none of WBA’s defenders expected him to be. This created acres of space for himself and he was unlucky to narrowly miss the far post.

Another perfect example is his first goal against Leicester back in the Autumn. Firmino started the game at left wing but as Milner marauded forwards, the Brazilian drifted inside to take up a position just between the centre backs.

With Morgan occupied by the run of Sturridge and Huth not monitoring  Firmino’s run until the last second, the Brazilian was able to slip into the box uncontested and fire past Schmeichel.

Hard work and Brazilian flair provides a twist

What makes Firmino so dangerous is the fact that while he possesses the same attributes as the likes of Muller in terms of vision and ability to find space, he’s also a hard-working and technically brilliant footballer.

His first touch is effortlessly sublime in and around the opposition box and he’s completed an impressive 61 take ons – an average of 2 per game – this season with only Sadio Mané managing more.

A hugely underrated part of the forward’s game is his range of passing and his weight of pass is genuinely fantastic – while Firmino has only assisted 6 Premier League goals this term, he’s managed to create a whopping 68 chances for teammates.

In fact no player in Liverpool’s squad averages more chances created per game or even comes close to Firmino’s total while only Alexis Sanchez can boast more chances created by a forward across the entirety of the Premier League.

This is doubly impressive when you consider the Brazilian has no say in set piece taking. He can give the ball away cheaply when he isn’t having a good day but there’s no denying that when he has it in and around the opposition penalty area, he’s a real handful for defenders.

So far, he’s got an ability to create and find space, typically Brazilian fast feet, the vision and ability to see key passes and pull them off and of course, 11 League goals on top.

However, we’ve not even reached the most impressive part of Firmino’s game and the one that sees him so highly revered by his manager: his work rate.

The Brazilian has made 36 successful tackles this season in the Premier League, averaging just over 1 per game while also managing 20 interceptions, 13 clearances and 3 defensive blocks – not bad for a number 9 eh?

Add to this a seriously impressive 57 aerial duels won at a 32% success rate despite being just 5′11 and you can see why a manager like Klopp who lives for his players work ethic would rate Firmino so highly. Across all of the forwards in the entirety of the Premier League, only Josh King has more successful tackles than Firmino.

Of course, there are areas of his game in which Firmino will need to continue improving if he is to carry on being so important to Klopp’s Liverpool, but at just 25 years old I would be very surprised if he doesn’t do so.

Not being a natural striker has at times worked against him – 11 Premier League goals from 91 shots is a record that needs to improve next season – and his versatility and importance to the team can also see blips in performance and statistics but there is no denying that he’s one of Liverpool’s most valuable assets and a true hybrid of the modern game.

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