Roberto Firmino: The world class false nine who perfectly complements Jurgen Klopp's system
By Shaun Stephens
It is a very exciting time if you are a Liverpool fan.
Your team has just reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since the 2008/2009 campaign.
Your side boasts an expansive array of attacking talent that includes the joint Premier League top goal scorer Mohamed Salah. Your club's impressive turn of form can be attributed to one of Europe’s most highly rated managers Jurgen Klopp.
It all seems to be coming together for Liverpool and with the arrival of dynamic midfielder Naby Keita this summer, there is certainly reason to be excited. One man who has been an integral part in this upturn in form is Roberto Firmino.
Although Salah has grabbed the headlines, Firmino has earned a beloved place in the heart of Liverpool fans for his impressive displays. When Roberto Firmino swapped Hoffenheim blue for Liverpool red in the Summer of 2015 not many would have imagined that he would have become such a vital part of Jurgen Klopp’s system.
The Brazilian was signed as an attacking midfielder, but with Daniel Sturridge’s injury woes creating a hole in Liverpool's starting lineup, he soon found himself playing as a centre forward and impressed many in his first season at Anfield.
Firmino scored ten league goals and notched seven league assists in his debut campaign. Still, there was questions raised about Firmino’s ability to be a prolific goal scorer and rumors suggested that Liverpool were still in the market for a striker. Since then Firmino has silenced all critics and eliminated all doubt about his role in Jurgen Klopp’s team.
To appreciate Firmino’s talent you must first have to understand his position. Firmino is not your typical striker. He is as a false nine. He often drops deep and makes positional sacrifices to complement his attacking partners Salah and Mane, who have definitely benefited from this.
Salah has scored 24 league goals and six in the Champions League. Mane has scored eight league goals and has six in the Champions League. These are impressive numbers and Firmino has reached impressive numbers himself. He has scored 20 across the league and Champions League.
He also has 10 assists. This is all the while playing from a different role than your stereotypical striker. One area where Firmino excels is in a creative sense. He has created 49 chances for his teammates in the league this season. Sergio Aguero, a fellow Premier League striker, has managed to create 39 chances for his team mates so far this season.
Firmino has created just eight less chances than Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and 19 more chances than Manchester United's Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has played 10 less games and often operates in a much deeper position but comparing Firmino to fellow premier league stars puts further emphasis on the quality he possesses.
The Brazilian international has made 865 passes this season and impressively 429 of them have been forward passes. He is always looking to create and with the departure of Coutinho this has become an even more important attribute to his game.
Jurgen Klopp is known for his high pressing, high intensity, rock and roll style of football. This is another trait that Firmino has in his locker. It is crucial for Klopp’s style of play that his striker defends from the front. Firmino has made 38 tackles in the league this season. That is an exceptional number for a striker and is another reason Klopp rates the Brazilian so highly. By comparison, Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku has made just three tackles.
Firmino is relentless with and without the ball. Manchester City found this out first hand. Firmino tormented City’s defense and when he got his chance to get on the scoresheet he took it expertly. He shrugged off John Stones before chipping Ederson and he stared in inflicting Manchester City’s only loss of the season.
Firmino’s ability to impact a game from many ways is what makes him one of the best attackers in Europe. If he is not creating chances for his teammates, he is chasing down lost causes and making sure no defender has an easy ride. He comes alive in the box.
All his premier league goals this season have been scored from inside the area. He is the complete modern-day striker and he is set to play a big part for Brazil at the upcoming world cup.
Jurgen Klopp has made it no secret that he wants Firmino to extend his contract and the club is believed to have opened negotiations to do so. Klopp and Firmino are a match made in heaven. Klopp’s tactics and Firmino’s style of play complement each other perfectly.
Firmino has now established himself as one of Liverpool’s most important players and taken the false nine position to new heights. At the age of 26 there is certainly much more to come from the talented Brazilian.