The age old saying in football is that “attack is the best form of defence” and no player epitomises this more than Brazilian centre forward, Roberto Firmino.
Heat maps will show you that he spends more time on the half way line than in the box, so how is he still one of the Premier League’s deadliest strikers?
The basic expectation of any player within a Jurgen Klopp team is to run, a lot. The German’s philosophy is known as “Gegenpressing” which essentially means that as soon as possession is lost you fight to win it back straight away as opposed to the more familiar tactic of re-grouping into your defensive shape.
Even a basic understanding of football would mean that you know possession is most commonly lost within the final third of the pitch when a team attempts an attack. This exact scenario is why Roberto Firmino is so pivotal to this Liverpool team. He is the first line of defence. His main duty is to hound defenders when he is out of possession causing them to either make a mistake or panic and lump the ball forward, gifting the ball back to Liverpool.
Although this may seem simple, and perhaps even obvious, you have to consider the calibre of players which Firmino is playing against week in week out. It can often mean that Liverpool’s only striker finds himself hunting down the ball in his own half as teams are reluctant to play a short passing game against him but a key element of his game is that he does not give up no matter whereabouts on the pitch he finds himself.
Once he has won the ball back, his game then switches to that of a more conventional number 9 where he looks to get beyond the back line and trouble the opposing goalkeeper. This works well as he possesses all of the key components of a great striker, such as composure in front of goal, the ability to read the game in an attacking sense and he has that trademark Brazilian flair in an abundance which can light up any game.
Even when Phillipe Coutinho was at the club it was often said that Firmino was a more crucial player to the side’s success, which is high praise indeed given that Coutinho is player supposedly worth upwards of £140,000,000. This has now been proved more than ever with Firmino racking up 23 goals and 14 assists so far this campaign. Phillipe who?
Obviously these tactics aren’t without their flaws, and teams have on occasion found ways to counteract the press, where they deploy a target man against Liverpool’s often shaky centre halves meaning that the areas for the press are disregarded and a lot of the game is played in the air. But as this is considered a negative tactic by most, you will not see the “big” teams playing this way, the main reason why Liverpool have had a lot of success against the so called top 6 in the past.
Following on from mistakes that were made last year with the hugely congested fixture list, Klopp has learnt to rotate his squad efficiently. This is due to the incredibly high amounts of energy used when they are pressing teams, it could often mean that in the 2nd half of games the press was non-existent and teams would then dictate the game from there, which isn’t a successful structure for a team wanting to challenge for silverware. The basic approach has not changed this term, as Firmino is still the focal point but now Liverpool select key moments and hunt in packs.
We are now into Firmino’s 3rd season in the Premier League, yet he still isn’t being mentioned in the same sentences as the leagues very best which is baffling for myself and many Liverpool fans alike. But we will happily accept that if it keeps him off the radars of Europe’s elite and he keeps delivering for Liverpool when it matters.