Without a goal at Anfield in the Premier League this season Roberto Firmino has come under a little bit of criticism for not being as prolific as he has been in previous campaigns. The Liverpool striker does have eight league goals in the league four less than last season. However, he does have seven assists one more than last season and with nine games to still potentially play. This illustrates how the Brazilian plays more as a false-nine in order to create chances for Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool’s line up
Liverpool will typically set up in a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfielder and two box-to-box midfielders and Firmino as a false nine. Looking at Liverpool’s pass map from their 2-1 win over Bournemouth. It illustrates Liverpool’s passing tendencies but also the player’s positions. The defensive midfielders’ role when Liverpool are in possession is to sit in between the two centre backs to provide the pivot in the middle to dictate the play. The fullbacks will then push up remaining in a high position while the two wingers will slightly tuck in to allow space for the fullbacks to overlap.
Firmino will then drop back into the central space in between the two midfielders. This effectively means the formation switches to a narrow 4-1-2-1-2. As the pass map shows it means that Firmino is the creative midfielder and is the central link to attack down the middle. His positioning is also vital in Liverpool’s counter-pressing style as his slightly deeper position enables him to press quickly with the midfield as soon as Liverpool lose the ball.
As the analysis has mentioned Firmino will operate as a false-nine this enables him to be able to counter-press with the midfield something that Liverpool do very well. On average every 90 minutes, Firmino will make 2.51 counter-pressing recoveries and 3.29 recoveries. His work rate is admirable as the forward is determined to win the ball back for his team in order to get them moving forward again.
Firmino will typically recover the ball when tracking back. As the image below demonstrates West Ham have turned the ball over and the midfield is looking to drive into the Liverpool half. To stop this Firmino will run diagonally across from a central position to put pressure on the runner and force him into the Liverpool press from Georginio Wijnaldum, Andrew Robertson and Fabinho. As Robertson has stepped across it covers the middle meaning the West Ham player has nowhere to go enabling Firmino to win the ball back. Liverpool will often press in this way as it surrounds the opposition player meaning they can win the ball back quickly. This press is triggered as soon as Liverpool loses the ball.
Once Firmino has recovered the ball his immediate intentions are for a forward pass instead of running with the ball. On average the Brazilian will only attempt 3.5 dribbles per 90 minutes instead he will favour a forward pass as his intentions are to get the ball in and around the box as quickly as possible. This mentality has led to his joint-highest assist tally of seven Premier League with a potential of nine games still to play. Only Trent Alexander-Arnold has more for Liverpool with 12.
The tactical analysis has mentioned his false-nine position allowing the wingers to play in more advanced positions, as the example below highlights, this enables Firmino to immediately have passing options when he recovers the ball. On this occasion, he has two options in Salah and Mané. Salah’s wider position stretches the Newcastle defence leaving the space in behind for Mané to run into, Frimino quickly spots this and grabs another assist. Liverpool’s number nine is particularly good at his passing as he averages 32.29 passes a game with 81.93% accuracy. His central position benefits him as the two-footed Brazilian is comfortable dribbling and playing a pass with either foot, with accuracy, making him unpredictable and dangerous.
Dropping into gaps
As part of Klopp’s tactics, Liverpool often looks to play out from the back, however, when a team adopts a high press Firmino is then excellent at dropping into the gap in between the midfield and the defence in order to be a direct ball out to bypass the press. Firmino is then a forward-thinking player and will look to turn and get the ball forward. He is able to do this accurately as 155 out of his 181 progressive passes are accurate.
The example below demonstrates the areas that Firmino will target. As he is able to find these pockets of space he is able to quickly turn and look for a forward pass. His movement into theses position often triggers the wide players to get forward meaning he has passing options. On this occasion, it is Mané that is making the run and as Firmino has time to turn he is able to find a pass to the winger this direct approach results in a shot on goal.
In a similar way, Firmino is also excellent at finding gaps around the penalty area. Interestingly Firmino is more likely to drop into these positions than to provide the natural striking position in the middle. This is because both Liverpool wingers like to cut inside and Liverpool want to target the space in behind either for a driven cross to the six-yard box or to get into a shooting position. In order to do this Firmino will drop into theses pockets of space to draw the defence out.
What this example highlights is both the forward’s ability to find these gaps but also his brilliant technical skill. Firmino loves to add flair to his game adding a clever flick or a bit of skill whenever he can. He will often go for a quick skill as well-meaning Liverpool attacks can progress with speed and fluidity. On this occasion, Firmino receives the pass from Salah drawing the defender towards him. From this position, he can see that the Egyptian has space to run into therefore needs to quickly get the ball out of a tight situation. It is likely that a normal pass would be intercepted as it is obvious what he wants to do therefore Firmino opts to stop the ball with his right foot before dragging it back and flicking the ball with his left foot. This impressive piece of skill causes the Newcastle to hesitate meaning he is able to get the pass to Salah, who finishes the brilliant move with a smart finish into the bottom corner across the goalkeeper.
Firmino only makes 1.8 progressive runs per 90 minutes. As the analysis has mentioned this is because Firmno plays more of a creative role. Nevertheless, he will make a forward run when the ball is in a wide position. This is to target the space in behind the defence, but also to take defenders with him to create the space for the wingers to cut inside for a shot. The image below highlights the position that Firmino will make for this type of run as Mané has the ball on the left and there is space in behind the Southampton defence. As a result, Firmino makes a diagonal run into the box where his shot is parried away by the goalkeeper. What this demonstrates is that Firmino is able to mix up his game making him unpredictable as defenders are unsure whether he will come short looking for the ball or drop in behind for a shooting opportunity.
So far this scout report has demonstrated that Firmino’s first intentions when receiving the ball is to look for a forward pass and therefore on average only attempts 3.5 dribbles per game. However, when he does run with the ball he wants to do it in the final third as out his 161 dribbles 118 have been in the final third. His overall success rate is 71.9% and drops slightly when in the final third to 67.8% this is to be expected as he will have more players around him and less space to work in.
When dribbling Firmino will take lots of little touches keeping the ball close to him and will wait for either a run from a teammate to create space or for the defender to commit before taking the ball past his opponent. This is effective for Firmino as his dribbling has led to expected goals of 7.35 from the shots that have followed.
Despite being very good with both feet he does favour his right foot and as the graphic below shows more goals have come from Firmino dribbling from the left coming in. This is because Liverpool will often look for the drilled cross across the six-yard box and to cover these defenders need to be tighter to the by-line this therefore creates the space for Firmino to cut inside on his favoured right foot.
Firmino has had 82 shots in the Premier League this season only Raúl Jiménez and Salah have had more demonstrating he is getting into the right areas but is possibly lacking the finishing. The scout report has mentioned how two-footed the Brazilian is however he does slightly favour his right foot, for a large part of his game this is not evident until it comes to his shooting. Looking across the season 123 shots in all competitions, however, only 41.5% have been on target and considering 104 have been inside the penalty area with 59 being with his right foot it does show an area of weakness.
Part of the problem may be the type of shot as with his right foot he looks for the curled effort towards the far post, this requires a higher level of accuracy to beat the keeper as it often lacks pace. Notice on the graphic below the Brazilians shot pattern that the majority are on the right of the goal.
To conclude this tactical analysis it is clear that Firmino is a world-class player. He probably should have more goals this season considering the number of shots he has had, however, most top forwards will most likely say they should have scored more or wanted to have scored more than they actually have. It also cannot go unnoticed Firmino work rate off the ball as he plays a vital part in Liverpool’s counter-pressing system which has helped in Liverpool having the best defensive record in the league, and it’s not like Klopp’s team have stopped scoring, as only Manchester City have scored more, with 68 goals compared to Liverpool’s 66, 48 of which have come from the front three.