Since signing from Hoffenheim in July of 2015 for 37 million pounds Roberto Firmino’s place as the point man in Liverpool’s 4-3-3 has rarely been under threat
he’s started over 30 games in four of his last five Premier League campaigns registering 17 plus goal involvements in all but one, however with just one goal in the first 10 competitive games of the 2021 campaign and only nine league goals in 34 starts last term his position as an automatic starter has gradually been brought into question
the new 41 million pound man Diogo Jota has also gone off like a rocket, becoming the first player since 2004 to score in his first three home games, he has included two winners and successive 2-1 league victories over Sheffield United and West Ham he followed this up with a memorable away hat-trick in the Champions League against Atalanta where he powered the reds to English football’s biggest margin of victory on Italian soil.
so are we on the cusp of seeing Liverpool’s fabled front three disassembled if so how would the reds line up let’s take a closer look
Normally new recruits need six months to familiarize themselves with Jurgen Klopp’s demanding system, at least this was the case with Andrew Robertson, Fabinho, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all of whom played under 2,100 minutes in their maiden campaigns however it appears Jota has largely bypassed this custom surprising even his manager with his adaptability.
so how is the 23-year-old former wolf star affecting his team’s fortunes at the start of the 2021 campaign and should Firmino make way to ensure that he gets more minutes. in his first five league appearances under Klopp Jota averaged 4.2 shots per 90 only topped in the squad by Mo Salah 4.6 more impressively 2.9 of those arrived inside the penalty box more than double Roberto Firmino’s tally of 1.3 this ability to find space has undoubtedly made Liverpool a deadlier proposition his xg of 0.5 per 90 is the third-best in the squad and more than double that of Fimino’s 0.28, so it’s not just quantity it’s quality too.
While it’s true that Firmino has always brought more to the side than goals and assists the numbers would suggest his ability to contribute on multiple fronts is waning. in 2015-16 Firmino puts up a truly elite 3.7 tackles and interceptions per 19 league play the same as James Milner however by the end of the 2018-19 season this had dropped to 1.2 where it stayed for the subsequent campaign, of course,
some of this owes to the system with Jurgen Klopp relenting on his counter-press in recent years to play a more direct style of football some of it however likely owes to physical decline after years of hard running admittedly in isolation tackles and interceptions aren’t always the best barometer for work rate as such it’s also useful to take things like defensive pressures into account and in this regard Firmino remains truly elite while his success rate in terms of winning the ball back is similar to that of his strike partners the sheer volume of pressing the Brazilian gets through is enormous.
in 2017-18 for example Salah and Mane put up 844 pressures combined Firmino put up 704 alone in 18-19 with his goal contributions declining from 22 to 18 he upped his work rate even further registering 733 in the Premier League. ultimately this meant he ranked 9th for forwarding players in the division despite Liverpool averaging 59 possession, so even though Firmino isn’t throwing himself into the tackle as much these days he’s still the master at harrying defenders in the final third
despite Firmino’s excellent pedigree as a provider his key passes are rapidly declining this is especially worrying in a period where Salah and Mané are taking a combined eight shots a game in 2016-17 the Brazilian was laying on an exceptional 2.3 chances per 90 for his teammates more than Philippe Coutinho before he sealed his big-money move to FC Barcelona this has declined year on year, however.
culminating in 1.6 per 90 in 2019-20 less than Naby Keïta another way we can quantify his ability as a provider is by assessing the amount of times he successfully passes into the box creating high-quality chances for his teammates in the opening seven league games of 2021 Firmino registered two fewer than Jordan Henderson in two more matches and while that sample size is small last season doesn’t make for great reading either in 19-20 Firmino found a teammate in the box on 35 occasions only three more times than his combative deep-lying captain and down from 54 the year before
that’s not to say that Jota will be an upgrade in this regard in his last season for Wolves he only found a teammate in the box 21 times albeit in eight fewer games than Firmino however what we can deduce is that Klopp won’t lose a significant amount of progression into the box by rotating the two despite Firmino’s superior reputation as a provider it’s largely understood that if Firmino were to drop out Salah would move to the middle, Mane would play on the right and Jota would take up his preferred position on the left
however against Sheffield United on matchday six Klopp had all forwards on the pitch when his men secured the win with Firmino playing as a 10 instead of a false nine a tactical change he took two with ease Jota played on the right, Mane on the left, and Salah down the middle with Henderson and Wijnaldum providing the defensive solidity in the double pivot
it was a formation that big german only started with three times in 38 league games in 2019-20 the fat Klopp is willing to deviate from his preferred 4-3-3 shows how serious he is about finding a permanent home for Jota for now it’s most likely the Portuguese forward will feature against sitting defenses given his effectiveness in the box we may also see him line up against teams that play expansively regardless of opposition given his speed in the transition from defense to attack however if Liverpool are set for a tactical battle against an equally talented side Firmino might just retain his place owing to his instinctive and relentless pressing in the middle of the park if Klopp can find a way to successfully incorporate them both we may just see Liverpool top their 2019-20 goal hall.