Roberto Firmino was not meant to be Liverpool’s go-to man this season. If the widespread rumors are to be believed, Firmino himself couldn’t even imagine being at Anfield this campaign.
And yet here we are, mid-October, and no Liverpool player – not even Mohamed Salah at £350,000 a week, despite his record six-minute hat-trick against Rangers – has played a role in more goals in all. competitions this season than Firmino’s eight.
Far from being the odd man out after the arrivals of Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez this year, Firmino has consistently qualified for the Reds this season and is surely in contention to start Sunday’s Premier League showdown against Manchester City.
Liverpool simply must win at Anfield, where Firmino will face Europe’s hottest striker in Erling Haaland, a player with 20 goals – six more than anyone else in Europe’s top five leagues – from his 13 appearances for City and feeling refreshed after a midweek rest.
Ahead of the meeting between the two most dominant forces in the Premier League over the past four seasons, Stats Perform takes a closer look at Firmino’s numbers and explains why he could hold the key to Liverpool getting the better of the champions.
KLOPP’S FAITH PAYS OFF
Amid all the noise surrounding Firmino’s future heading into the 2022-23 campaign, with Juventus in advanced talks to sign him, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called the striker “heart and soul.” soul” of the team.
No wonder the German has such a high opinion of the 31-year-old, with no Liverpool player playing more games (332), playing for more minutes (23,899) or registering more assists (70). ) during the seven years at the helm of Klopp.
The arrivals of Diaz and Nunez, as well as Diogo Jota’s impressive form, seemed to cut into Firmino’s playing time, but he started three of Liverpool’s first four games of the campaign, including the Community Shield win over City.
Firmino failed to register a single goal or appear in any of those games, but he retained the faith in Klopp – albeit helped by Jota’s injury and Nunez’s suspension – and truly launched his campaign in Bournemouth’s 9-0 thrashing at the end of August.
In that game, a record winning margin for a side in Premier League history, Firmino became the first Liverpool player to be directly involved in four goals in the first half of a competition game en route to score two goals and assist three. If it was necessary to recall the qualities of Firmino, that was it.
A significant equalizer followed in Liverpool’s next game, a late 2–1 win over Newcastle United; two goals to pull Liverpool back two goals in a 3-3 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion; another equaliser, this time in the loss to Arsenal; then another two goals and an assist in Rangers’ 7-1 Champions League defeat in midweek.
Those 12 goals and assists in all competitions are on par with Salah’s tally for the season, and double that of second-best Diaz, who has started three games more than the Brazil international. Per minute, no Liverpool player has performed better this season in an attacking sense.
FIRMINO THE FOCAL POINT
Perhaps most notable of all as attention turns to Liverpool’s encounter with City, Firmino is just one goal behind Haaland’s total for October (five goals to six). Among clubs in Europe’s top five leagues in all competitions, Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder is the only other player to score five or more goals this month.
Incidentally, Firmino’s five goals come from an expected goal value (xG) of 1.43, compared to Haaland’s six from an xG of 3.03 – a difference of 3.57 and 2.97 respectively , suggesting that the quality of Firmino’s chances have been lower than the players’. for Halland.
That’s not to say Firmino is in the same league as Haaland right now – who is? – but on a personal level, this is somehow his best start to a campaign for Liverpool. His eight goals after 11 games is at least two more than he managed in his previous seven seasons at Anfield, while in 2019-20 alone he got more assists than his four this season.
But why is that exactly? Playing against a Bournemouth side unable to defend balls in the box admittedly skewed the numbers somewhat, although it’s clear that Firmino’s play has also changed this season compared to last.
Just under 11% of his Premier League touches this season have come within the width of the goal inside the penalty area, up from a figure of 6% last time out. It was further back last season, and more to the right, that he touched the ball more occasionally.
Indeed, his eight goals this season have come from that central area inside the box – one via his header, three with his left foot and four with his right.
Another interesting aspect of Firmino’s game this season has been his movement, or more precisely his runs without the ball in the penalty area. He made 89 in the Premier League in 468 minutes on the pitch, the most by any player in 90 minutes (17.1), followed by Haaland (14.1).
It could well be a tactic Liverpool will aim to take full advantage of against City, a side Firmino has scored or assisted against seven times in 14 top-flight appearances – only against Arsenal (13 combined) does he have a better record. against among the top five clubs.
So while much of the build-up to Sunday’s showdown will – understandably – center on Haaland and his remarkable run of goals, Liverpool will once again have Bobby to call on in a game they simply must win. if they want to keep all hope alive. to fight for the title.