Roberto Firmino has four months to save his starring role. The Brazilian is not having a good season.
Roberto Firmino has an incredibly important role in the Liverpool team. Effectively, the entire side revolves around him.
Firmino drops from the striker role into the space between the opposition midfield and defence – i.e the ‘False 9’ position. The only way for the defence to combat that is for a defender to follow him but that leaves space at the back.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane attack that space. In doing so, they leave the wings free for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to run into.
Liverpool need to cover the space their full-backs leave, however. They use two hard-working midfielders alongside a defensive midfielder to do this.
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That comes at the cost of not having a midfielder to link with the forwards but no need to worry as Firmino does that by dropping deep in the first place.
And that, essentially, is how Liverpool have won so much over the last few years. It’s a fantastic system that asks the opposition to be perfect in order to stop it.
Unfortunately, it can falter in another way, too – the players’ form drops off a cliff.
Injuries have crippled Liverpool this season. They’re just not the same team and very rarely put the same XI out twice.
That’s in complete contrast to last season, of course. It all means that things aren’t working as they are. Virtually no one is having a season as good as last year.
That may well prompt change in the summer. Everyone will be a year older, too, and Liverpool may start heading in a new direction.
But what does that mean for Firmino? His role in the side is as safe as anyone’s only as long as the system remains.
Once that system starts changing, Firmino’s place isn’t quite as secure. In fact, whether he remains an integral part or not could come down to raw numbers.
You’re far more likely to keep Premier League top scorer Mohamed Salah as a key part than Firmino the role player, after all.
So Firmino needs to show his importance over the next four months, arguably more than anyone else. He needs starring performances and productivity or he’ll be the forward Liverpool drop from the XI.
But that appears difficult as Firmino, like most, isn’t playing well. So how does he correct it?
Bizarrely, the stats suggest Firmino is actually producing on a remarkably similar level to the last two years.
Per Understat, his Goals per 90, his xG (expected goals) per 90, his shots per 90 and his assists per 90 this season are all within 0.03 of those years.
Importantly, his xGChain90 is also within that range. It’s a stat that measures how many goals Liverpool should score per game when Firmino is involved in a move.
That’s been around 0.84 the last two season and it’s 0.81 this campaign.
But there is an area with a clear drop-off – creating chances. The last two seasons saw Firmino create an average of 1.51 chances per game.
The xG from those passes was around 0.22 per game. That translates to eight assists over the Premier League season, which is exactly what Firmino got.
This year, though, Firmino creates just 1.2 chances per game. Those chances create around 0.16 xG.
That translates to six assists. Is that the biggest difference? No. But it’s part of a trend.
Firmino’s xA90 (expected assists per 90) has been between 0.22 and 0.25 in every season since his £29m arrival. This is the first year where it has dropped and it’s dropped by quite some way.
One way to look at it is that Firmino at his best gets an assist every four games. Now it’s every seven games. That will affect Liverpool, who rely on him to link the attack.
This is where Firmino needs to change if he wants to keep this team revolving around him. If he can start being the creative spark once again, he’ll keep his role.