The time nears for Liverpool to move on from Roberto Firmino and the False 9 system. The Reds could use a different kind of striker.
Roberto Firmino is an incredible player and one of the most important at Liverpool. You only need to listen to Jurgen Klopp talk about his no.9 to understand that.
“He played again outstandingly well,” said Klopp after the Manchester United game.
“Mo [Salah] gets a lot of attention and rightly so but Bobby, for people with football knowledge, I’m pretty sure when he ends playing people will write books about how he interpreted the false nine position.
“I won’t say he invented it! But the way he plays it from time to time looks that way. Some of the defensive things he did on the pitch are absolutely insane.
“Offensively he is obviously a nice link-up player and he scores from time to time”.
Firmino’s interpretation of that False 9 role has been magnificent. As Klopp says, the way he defends is extraordinarily good, pressing the right players at the right times.
His movement is also world-class. Firmino will drop into space to link with the midfield, dragging defenders with him. He’ll also drift wide to do the same thing, creating space for wingers to attack.
He’s essentially a striker and an attacking midfielder in one. Firmino leads the line but plays in the hole so well that Liverpool don’t use an attacking midfielder.
And with all of that comes one massive problem.
Roberto Firmino is just too important
Firmino is so good and so unique that Liverpool can’t possibly replace him – there’s no one like the Brazilian. Their best bet is signing someone and retooling them for the role. Even then, they’re highly unlikely to be as good at it as Firmino.
So Liverpool will suffer a downgrade post-Firmino. To the point where it might be time to move on from the Brazilian’s style of play.
Now, that carries consequences. If Liverpool don’t have a False 9, they’ll need more creativity from elsewhere. They’ll need to create space in different ways and potentially introduce an attacking midfielder.
But we might actually be seeing that already. Liverpool’s next generation of midfielders is far more attacking than the last, for instance.
On top of that, Liverpool are currently working moves in wide areas, as opposed to the middle. More specifically, they’re leaning into Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah to create from the right.
It lessens the need for a player dropping into central areas as Firmino does. Instead, they could benefit from having a better target in the box.
And perhaps that’s where Liverpool go post-Firmino. As he moves into his 30s – and struggles with injuries – his long-term replacement may be a more out-and-out striker.
As we say, we can’t imagine they’ll find a like-for-like replacement. Thus heading in a new direction with their striker makes a lot of sense. Such a player can benefit from the added creativity elsewhere.
We’re seeing links to Dusan Vlahovic, after all. It looks like we’ll see a big style change at Liverpool over the coming year or two.