Roberto Firmino: Should he still be Liverpool’s number 9?
Liverpool’s start to the season has been problematic, to say the least. However, as a result of their resounding 9-0 win against Bournemouth, Roberto Firmino bagged his 100th goal in a red shirt. The Brazilian also scored his first goal at Anfield since December 2020. A fantastic man of the match performance, scoring two and assisting three has potentially left Klopp with a headache for the remainder of Liverpool’s fixtures.
Moreover, Roberto Firmino has dropped in form prior to the Bournemouth game and started in the shocking 2-1 loss to Manchester United last Monday. Firmino struggled to link up play against the Red Devils and often dropped deep in a desperate attempt to create chances for Diaz and Salah. United’s defence kept him quiet and even on opening day he was subbed off against Fulham for Darwin Nunez, who went on to score and assist in the 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage.
Talking of the Uruguayan striker, Nunez arrived this summer for a huge £85 million fee including add-ons with a lot of pressure on the 23-year-old to fill the boots of Sadio Mane but with Liverpool’s acquisition of Luis Diaz in January, Nunez is in competition with Firmino for the striker position at Liverpool.
Roberto Firmino, in his 7th season with The Reds, has finally hit a century of goals for the club. Many pundits and ex-players have complimented the Brazilian highly and Jurgen Klopp often praises the Brazilian for his work rate, and technical ability and is quoted in 2018 saying “Mo Salah world-class, But not every day. Sadio Mane, world-class but not every day. Roberto Firmino, world-class pretty much every day.”
Firmino went on that season to score 10 goals in The Champions League and Liverpool became the 2nd team in history to have 2 players score 10 or more in a UCL campaign (Salah was the other with 10 goals).
However, Firmino’s peak years are arguably behind him, and the last two seasons have been rather underwhelming with 5 goals and 3 assists in the 2021/22 Premier League season and 9 goals and 7 assists in the 2020/21 season. Famously, goals aren’t the key part of Firmino’s game, and the Gegenpressing of Liverpool is spearheaded by the Brazilian who has a fantastic desire and ability to create chances rather unselfishly for his teammates.
Despite Firmino’s excellent pressing, (22.17 pressures per 90 in the last 365 days) his lack of finishing has always held him back compared to the rampant Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane in the past with the two wingers often taking headline news with their ice-cool finishing. However, the conundrum for Klopp is that often, when the Brazilian plays, Liverpool does seem to play better.
Firmino loves to orchestrate their attacks and Liverpool have become a team that has the ball more often; thus, in theory, he should be scoring more goals. However, his unselfishness often means that he doesn’t score as many as he should. Partnered with the fact that teams have become much aware of the quality he brings, therefore they force him to drop deep to attempt to create space for Salah and Diaz.
Football is evolving, and Firmino (aged 30) is getting to the conclusion of his career, his lack of pace in the forward line can be dealt with, especially against a low block, and was highlighted last season when he didn’t start in The Champions League final against Real Madrid. The arrival of Darwin Nunez offers Liverpool something completely different, along with the comparison of Luis Suarez with Nunez. The bulldog approach to a striker and a player that will run in behind and get in the box to finish, a more traditional striker if you will.
Firmino has never been this type of striker, and the option to add something different will leave Klopp licking his lips as the Uruguayan has plenty of potential. Nunez is a proven goal scorer with 32 goals in the Liga Portugal last season and 6 goals in The Champions League. Liverpool had to act on the arrival of Erling Haaland at Manchester City and Nunez is that reaction in order to compete with Manchester City again in all competitions.
It is up to Klopp now whether he sticks with his guns and sticks to the phrase “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it” as Firmino has led them to many successful seasons. Moreover, the additions of their rivals in The Premier League have meant they needed to act, and Liverpool’s aging squad needed a fresh player to set them up for years to come with Klopp’s new contract running to 2026.
Will Klopp use his longest-serving forward or change the system to accommodate one of the brightest young strikers in Europe? For Liverpool to evolve, they need to consider the Uruguayan as the start of their second revolution at the club.