Talking Tactics

Firmino gives right balance to Liverpool's attack

By Adrian Clarke 22 Feb 2023
MW25 TT Firmino

Adrian Clarke explains how the forward's guile and creativity can help punish Crystal Palace

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Roberto Firmino (LIV)

Liverpool's 5-2 midweek loss to Real Madrid highlighted the defensive frailties that have plagued them all season, but Jurgen Klopp may also consider tinkering with the structure of his attack against Crystal Palace.

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Liverpool have scored twice in each of their last three matches in all competitions, but the return of Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota provides Klopp with an option to rest and rotate.

With Palace likely to defend deep and congest space inside their own half, a pacy front three of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo may not be best suited to the challenge of breaking them down.

Better balance?

The reintroduction of fit-again Firmino down the centre holds appeal if the Liverpool’s manager opts for a more balanced forward line.

Firmino’s excellent link play, ball-winning qualities and astute movement often help the team create angles which are difficult for defenders to handle.

This in theory, should help the two wide forwards either side of him thrive.

Liverpool’s Premier League record with Firmino in the starting XI this season makes eye-catching reading.

Their firepower and results have been significantly better when Klopp has selected the Brazilian.

Liverpool 22/23 with/without Firmino
  Firmino starts Non-Firmino starts
Matches 11 11
Wins 6 4
Points 20 15
Goals 25 13

He is not the quickest Liverpool forward, but Firmino’s form before he picked up a calf injury in December had been excellent.

Scoring seven goals and making three assists from just 11 starts, he remains their forward with the best end product on a per 90-minute basis in 2022/23.

Firmino's goal v Southampton

With Salah and Nunez missing a lot of chances, Firmino is also statistically the most clinical finisher at Klopp’s disposal among his forwards.

Liverpool forwards’ conversions
Mins per goal/assist Conversion rate %
Firmino 97.8 Firmino 26.9%
Diaz 123.0 Gakpo 25.0%
Nunez 124.4 Diaz 23.1%
Salah 150.7 Carvalho 20.0%
Carvalho 167.5 Salah 14.6%
Gakpo 198.0 Nunez 10.5%
Jota 248.0 Jota N/A

Salah’s gorgeous pass for Gakpo’s goal at Newcastle last Saturday, and his low cross for Nunez against Real Madrid on Tuesday mean we have seen glimpses of improving chemistry in recent matches.

In fact, across their last three matches in all competitions, nine of Liverpool’s 10 goals or assists have involved Salah (2G, 2A), Darwin Nunez (2G, 1A) and Cody Gakpo (2G).

Klopp will hope his new front three’s on-pitch relationships continue to blossom, but in Firmino he has a player who naturally knits moves together inside the final third.

Dropping into pockets between the lines, or half-spaces in the wider areas, he offers game intelligence.

His all-round quality helps Liverpool produce sustained periods of pressure better than when he is absent.

Liverpool’s best attacking passers 2022/23
Player Successful passes in final third/90
Firmino 13.17
Salah 10.9
Nunez  6.27
Jota  6.2
Gakpo  4.77

Gakpo will be pleased to have scored in Liverpool’s last two Premier League fixtures, but the side do lose something in possession when the 23-year-old features.

Gakpo's MW24 goal v Newcastle

The January signing from PSV Eindhoven is a low-touch player who tends not to get heavily involved in Liverpool’s build-up play.

As shown in the table above, he averages just 4.77 successful passes inside the final third per 90, compared with Firmino’s 13.17.

Creative options

Interestingly Firmino replaced Gakpo against Real for the final 26 minutes.

Although he could not help Liverpool come back into the match, Firmino's nine accurate passes and four touches in the box are the same number as the player he replaced, despite featuring for less than a third of the match.

Firmino also registered a shot on target, which was something Gakpo failed to do in 64 minutes.

Klopp’s all-out pace attack is a scary proposition for opponents, but Firmino’s guile and productivity offers the team something different.

If he is fit enough to start, an awkward test against a gritty Palace outfit could be the right time to bring him back into the side.

Also in this series

Part 2: How Leno is proving his worth at Fulham
Part 3: How Joao Felix's movement can lift Chelsea

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