Atletico Madrid will face Liverpool on Wednesday with a plan but it risks unlocking Roberto Firmino. That would see the Reds through.
We’ve talked before about teams unlocking Firmino. It’s a powerful weapon in Liverpool’s arsenal, after all – they can stop the full-backs and the wingers, but it only creates space for the red no. 9.
The biggest threat at Liverpool is the two wingers, of course. That sees teams sit back to shut down space in behind. But from there, the full-backs find space of their own to get dangerous crosses into the box.
That has led to teams playing a deep 4-4-2. That way, there are two wide midfielders who can track Liverpool’s full-backs. Only, that creates another problem.
4-4-2 went out of fashion a while ago because it naturally has space in between the midfield and defence. That space is ripe for a good attacking midfielder or, in Liverpool’s case, a forward looking to drop deep.
Firmino is the best ‘False 9’ in the business since arriving for £29m and when teams play this 4-4-2, he tends to come alive. It happened against Southampton, where he was brilliant, and it happened before that at Tottenham Hotspur. The Brazilian grabbed the winner in that one.
Now, Atletico play 4-4-2. They did it in Madrid and they’ll almost certainly use it at Anfield. And in doing so, Atletico create a game suited for Firmino.
And Liverpool will find it far easier to utilise Firmino than they did away from home. The Reds can afford to push up more and stretch Atletico as far as they’ll go. That only means more space for their no. 9.
It’s too far to say that the result depends on Firmino. But the way things appear to set up, he will be the key creative outlet for Liverpool.
Perhaps we’ll even finally see him score a goal at Anfield this season. There’s no better time.