Roberto Firmino has suffered a huge drop in the pressing he’s known for. The Brazilian is struggling to start the season.
Roberto Firmino just isn’t pressing the way he has done since his £29m arrival. That’s according to the stats, anyway. The Brazilian has certainly started the season poorly in front of goal but it seems it’s more than that.
We can turn to fbref.com for the details. When Firmino applies pressing, Liverpool are winning the ball back 21% of the time. Last season, that number was 31%.
That might not seem like such a big difference on the face of it but it really is. Instead of winning possession from nearly 1 in 3 of Firmino’s presses, the number is down to 1 in 5.
He’s pressing the same amount, too – 21 times per game. But the answer might instead be in where that pressing is happening.
Over the last three seasons, Firmino’s pressing has been almost equally split between the middle third and attacking third. In fact, in 17/18 and 18/19, the majority of his presses came in the middle.
In each season, he averaged around 11 in the middle and 10 in the final third. So an even split, with slightly more as a midfielder, really.
This season, however, that’s changed. His presses in the middle have dropped to seven per game. His presses in the attacking third have increased to 13. It means Firmino has gone from an even split to pressing nearly twice as much in the final third.
It’s difficult to know why that change has happened. Are opponents passing from the back more? Have they stopped playing through midfield? Or perhaps Liverpool just aren’t as compact as usual, or even playing far higher up the pitch?
The way Aston Villa exploited a high line suggests the first and last are both true. If Liverpool are to get the best out of Firmino’s pressing – a key trait of his game – then something has to change.
It’s worth noting, also, Mohamed Salah’s stats. He’s shared roughly the same percentages as Firmino in regards to pressing over the last few years.
But while Firmino’s have dropped significantly this year, Salah’s have shot up. In fact, they’re remarkable. Liverpool win the ball back with 50% of Salah’s presses – a truly incredible rate. It means that as soon as the Egyptian presses, Liverpool are likely to win the ball.
He’s pressing just as often as usual, too, but seemingly doing it far better.
There must be some small details here, then, that suggest why Firmino is struggling defensively. Perhaps it’s as simple as him being off form. Hopefully, he can get back to his best soon because Liverpool could really do with his best right now.