Jack Hallows talks Roberto Firmino and why he believes the Brazilian is Liverpool Football Club’s current most valuable player.
Even though Liverpool have made the baffling decision to sell Philippe Coutinho this January with no replacement in mind, it’s worth remembering the club still possesses a plethora of attacking talent.
Mohamed Salah has scored 26 goals in all competitions, Sadio Mané was the club’s Player of the Season in 2016/17, Adam Lallana when fit can provide creativity, intelligent movement and goals from deep but none are quite so integral as Brazilian ‘false’ nine Roberto Firmino.
The former Hoffenheim man has gone from strength to strength under Jürgen Klopp and with the club having multiple wide options to call upon this season, he’s been able to put together a consistent run as the club’s focal attacker. Clearly, this has only been to the benefit of both the player and the club as Firmino has already equaled his Premier League goal tally from the whole of last season.
In fact, when you break it down a little further and disregard the games Firmino’s started from the bench or from a wide left position, his numbers are actually staggering.
When fielded as Liverpool’s starting number nine, Firmino has managed to score 18 goals and assist 9 in 27 appearances. Not bad for a bloke who “can’t finish.”
Speaking of finishing, the Brazilian’s conversion rate of 28.2% in the Premier League is almost double what he managed last season (15%) showcasing both an improvement in his finishing ability and an improvement in the quality of chances he’s been afforded by getting an extended run up top.
But wait, I haven’t even reached the best part yet!
When it comes to most Premier League strikers, they often score the bulk of their goals in a certain manner. Arsenal have just signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for example who scored 97 of his 98 Bundesliga goals for Dortmund inside the opposition penalty area and is the perfect example of a ‘poacher.’
The man he’s replacing – Olivier Giroud – is another good example with the Frenchman netting the most headed Premier League goals since he made his debut for Arsenal.
So what is Firmino’s stereotypical goal? He simply doesn’t have one.
He’s headed home from corners, scored simple tap-ins, netted a penalty on the opening day at Watford, finished off counter attacks and even outmuscled defenders to chip stranded goalkeepers.
Whether it’s simply confidence, the presence of Salah and Mané to either side of him bringing the best out of him or simply the result of hard work on the training ground, the Brazilian is scoring from practically everywhere.
It’s not just the goals he scores himself that’s been impressive this season either.
The Brazilian is an underrated goalscorer but in my opinion, he can be an even more underrated creative force.
His nine assists this season are more than any other Liverpool player has managed while his 50 chances created across both the Premier League and Champions League proper is the equal most with Mohamed Salah.
Fit the system? He IS the system
This point is equal parts impressive, equal parts worrying.
Put simply, Roberto Firmino is such a perfect fit for Klopp’s style of football that at times it seems as if the system simply wouldn’t work without him. The Brazilian is relentless when it comes to pressing from the front and his hard work off the ball is just as – if not more – important as the goals he scores and creates.
His tackling ability, his willingness to challenge for everything aerially and his all-round movement and game intelligence off the ball make him the perfect blend of ruthlessness that allows others to thrive.
Speaking plainly, he’s the kind of player that others simply love to play with. He creates space, opens up passing avenues and pulls defenders around at will – a particularly effective blend when you can exploit the pace Liverpool possess on the wings.
Worryingly, however, it’s this level of uniqueness that Firmino possesses that could cause problems for the Reds due to a lack of a natural replacement. Questions were asked about why the club didn’t rival Arsenal for Lacazette in the summer or Aubameyang this month but when you take out the numbers and start to look at the bigger picture it becomes much less of a mystery.
Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Christian Benteke, Divock Origi – all far more ‘natural’ number nines than Firmino on paper but none of them have managed to command a regular starting place under Klopp. The German covets hard work, team play and tenacity up front more than anything else and in this system, a combination of all three will bring goals alongside.
Nine months ago there were plenty of people calling for Firmino to be replaced but now, with the Brazilian showing his true worth to this Liverpool team, it’s becoming obvious just who Liverpool’s MVP really is.