Roberto Firmino becoming a force for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool
By Sam Drury
Last Updated: 06/12/15 3:36pm
Roberto Firmino is showing signs of developing into a key man for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, writes Sam Drury...
Roberto Firmino's transfer to Liverpool came almost out of nowhere.
While most deals are preceded by weeks of rumours, claims and counter-claims in the newspapers, often long before a bid has even been made, Liverpool confirmed the signing of the Brazilian less than 24 hours after the British press had first mooted a possible move.
It led to comparisons of when the club stunned fans and media alike in announcing that they had re-signed Ian Rush from Juventus in 1988. Being able to keep such major deals under wraps was supposed to be a thing of the past; some might argue that Liverpool signing players of such quality was too.
However, while the arrival of any player would struggle to excite fans as much as the return of a legend like Rush did all those years ago, acquiring Firmino created a buzz and a sense of anticipation among the fans keen to see their new man in action.
Signing a Brazilian who has scored 23 goals and made 22 assists in the past two Bundesliga seasons for a fee that could rise to £29m will have that effect. As such, until recently, his start to life on Merseyside could be viewed as underwhelming.
After his efforts for his country at the Copa America, Firmino was not deemed fit enough to begin the season in Liverpool's starting XI.
Indeed, by the time Brendan Rodgers was dismissed as Liverpool manager in October, the former Hoffenheim star had started just three league games for his new club, lasting little over an hour in each before being substituted.
A back injury sustained early on in his only other start up to that point, the Capital One Cup tie against Carlisle, meant he also missed the beginning of Jurgen Klopp's tenure.
But since his return, Firmino has really begun to find his feet.
He picked up the man of the match award in Liverpool's Capital One Cup win over Bournemouth, played a crucial role in victories away at Rubin Kazan and Chelsea and produced a stunning performance in the Reds' demolition of Manchester City, creating the first two goals and scoring the third.
Roberto Firmino has created three clear-cut chances in the Premier League this season. No Liverpool player has provided more.
Klopp has since described Firmino as a 'complete offensive player' and given his performances in those games it is easy to see why; the 24-year-old excelled both as a No 10 and as a false nine in those matches.
Perhaps the only dilemma for the Liverpool boss is where to play him.
It was in the latter position that he was stationed for the triumphs at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad but with Christian Benteke and the fit-again Daniel Sturridge to consider, it is hard to see him playing there in the long term.
A slightly deeper role is certainly more natural to him, as Klopp's comments after the City match indicate. "Before the game, I told him he's a striker who can sometimes be a midfielder - not the midfielder who is sometimes a striker," the German told NBC.
"We need him as a target and he came very deep. So I said, 'What are we doing here? We can't play the ball in that direction when we have no one to play it to, please stay there'."
Firmino's inclination is to find pockets of space and take up positions from where he can be a threat to the opposition. He did this time and again against City, even if it meant he was deeper than Klopp wanted at times, and his movement is undoubtedly a key component of his game.
In Liverpool's two games since beating City, Firmino has been significantly quieter but even when things aren't going to plan for him on the ball, his intelligence means defenders can never switch off.
For example, in the opening 20 minutes of the Europa League match with Bordeaux at Anfield, the French side's defence simply couldn't get near Liverpool's No 11. It wasn't that he was running rings around them when he got on the ball but rather that he was picking up positions that constantly posed questions of the defence.
Premier League 2015/16 - Liverpool dribbles
Defenders also know that they will not be able to rest on the ball when Firmino is on the pitch. When Klopp first joined, the South American was quickly highlighted as a player who could shine under the former Dortmund boss due to his ability to press and harry defenders high up the pitch.
This was clear against City as he made a total of nine ball recoveries, of which four were in the opposition half, and he matched those stats in the clash with Swansea on Sunday.
It was on the ball, with his passing in particular, that Firmino most let himself down with compared to his dazzling display in Manchester.
Klopp was quick to mention the extremely blustery conditions at Anfield after the game and, of course, all players have off days. But perhaps the players around him also contributed to a number of Firmino's passes going astray.
That is not to blame those players but Benteke and Jordon Ibe, with whom Firmino started against Swansea, unquestionably possess very different skill sets to Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, the pair who flanked him at City.
Firmino has impressed most for Liverpool when surrounded by more intricate players like Coutinho and Lallana - passing and moving, playing one-twos and at pace - rather than with more of a dribbler in Ibe and Benteke, a striker in the target-man mould.
With that in mind, Sturridge's talent when it comes to quick interplay should provide encouragement for both Firmino and Liverpool. The England striker's movement is also sure to provide the Brazil international with opportunities to regularly show off his ability to play a killer pass.
On the evidence so far, getting the best out of Firmino is dependent not on what position he plays but on his supporting cast.
And, with Sturridge back, Klopp suddenly has a multitude of attacking options at his disposal. That Firmino has already shown he has all the necessary attributes to succeed as a No 10 or when leading the line only adds to that.
His impact may not have been as sudden as his transfer but, after a period of adaptation, Firmino now looks ready to flourish at Anfield.