5 May 2014, Selhurst Park
Astonishing, agonizing, Liverpool let a three goals lead slip in the final 11 minutes against Palace. With the point, Liverpool moved to the top of the premier league table but the scenes told something else as an inconsolable Suarez was escorted towards the tunnel by captain Steven Gerrard evading the cameras. Liverpool conceded the title to Manchester City that season that also marked Suarez’s final season with the Reds as he was sold to the Catalan club Barcelona.
A replacement was needed and the transfer committee roped in Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim. In his first season, he didn’t look impressive, especially when you’re replacing a player of Suarez’s calibre. Things changed after the appointment of Jurgen Klopp and “Bobby” Firmino has been a constant in the Liverpool side ever since, often deemed as the most important, influential player in the team.
So what makes him irreplaceable? The answer lies in the tactics of Klopp
Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool play in a 4-3-3 system with Firmino playing as a ‘false 9’. The Brazilian’s technical ability, intelligence allows him to operate between the lines being the spearhead of Klopp’s pressing system.
When Liverpool is out of possession, Firmino initiates the press with either winger creating 2v1 situations, the turnover of possession allows quick one-twos to slip Salah or Mane in. This is why Firmino mostly tops the charts of ball recoveries, tackles won by an attacking player. When countering or playing from deep inside their own half Liverpool attain a 4-4-2 diamond with the wingers acting as strikers with Firmino at no.10.
The lightning-fast counters are often played through Firmino as the balls are played to him and he makes the decision of who to release with his slick through balls. His return of goals isn’t bad either, scoring 10+ goals in each of his four seasons with the club. For a striker his numbers of assists are also quite decent, averaging 6 assists per season.
His work-rate off the ball is the vital feature of his game as Firmino drops deep adding up the numbers in midfield. The overload in midfield with Wijnaldum, Henderson, Fabinho, Firmino and one of the full-backs helps Liverpool assert dominance in midfield. The gegenpressing outfit has seen significant improvement under the German manager with the runners up finish and a Champions League medal in the past two seasons.
The signing of Mo Salah has taken Liverpool to another level in both domestic and European front as the Egyptian has profited from Firmino’s dynamic shifts. Both Salah and Mane can play as inside forwards getting inside from the channels with Firmino feeding the duo from behind. Despite his lean stature, Firmino has quite a formidable aerial ability, helping his side winning headers. With none of Salah or Mane being renowned for their heading Firmino’s ability to win the aerial duels adds another element to the fearsome pace of the trio.
“Mo Salah, world-class, but not every day. Sadio Mane, world-class, but not every day. Roberto Firmino, world-class, pretty much every day.” – Jurgen Klopp, this only emphasizes the importance of Firmino in the dominant Liverpool side.