Roberto Firmino remains an enigma. He’s now into his sixth season as a Liverpool player and there are people out there who still don’t know what he does for the Premier League champions. There are always preconceived notions in football, often expectations detailed to people at a young age, and these are hard to shake off or move away from.
For example, a No.9 is supposed to score goals, a No.10 is a creator and a No.8 is a box-to-box midfielder. But shirt numbers shouldn’t define a player and they shouldn’t skew expectations. Harry Kane and Sergio Agüero are two of the greatest strikers in history and both wear the number ten. Wayne Rooney wore the No.8 jersey at Manchester United for a period and though he did eventually end up in midfield, he was anything but that when he was terrorising defenders with that particular number on his back.
Firmino is a No.9 in nothing but the shirt number. The way he’s used by Jürgen Klopp further highlights the fact he isn’t a striker. Using various viz from the Twenty3 Toolbox, it’s easy to paint a picture of what sort of player Firmino actually is.
The Defensive Actions Map shows the Brazilian covers almost the entirety of the opposition’s half and in terms of volume, there’s a lot there. Compare that to Agüero’s and the difference is stark in both frequency and coverage. It’s the same when looking at attempted passes by zone. Both attackers play the highest number of passes in almost identical zones but it’s what they do outside of that which is telling. The Manchester City man attempts a fairly even number of passes across the opposition’s half.
Firmino attempts as many passes in the defensive midfield zone as he does in the opposition’s penalty area. He attempts more passes in those areas inside his own half than he does in the final quarter of the pitch. It’s quite clear that Agüero and Firmino are nothing alike yet the latter’s goal record is often compared to the former’s.
The Average Position Map above shows Liverpool use a diamond formation. While the starting shape may have the Brazilian leading the line, in terms of where he touches the ball he’s often deeper than both Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.
If the position markers weren’t included and people didn’t know this was Liverpool, it’s likely many people would agree that this was a variation of a diamond and an attacking midfielder was part of this team.
Yet because the Reds start in a 4-3-3 shape and Firmino is the furthest man forward in the line-up, he’s judged as a centre-forward and not an attacking midfielder.
The Passing Network map again shows Firmino isn’t heavily involved on the ball. Liverpool create a lot of their chances by overloading wide areas and this involved the full-back, the centre-midfielder and the wide forward. The Brazilian’s role in this is to create space. This isn’t a quantifiable metric but it’s arguably the most important part of Klopp’s system.
Firmino is and always has been a facilitator. He’s closer to Thomas Müller than he is Robert Lewandowski, yet he’s compared to the latter more than he is the former. He wears the No.9 but he’s very much a No.10 and expectations should be tweaked to take that into account.
All the graphics and visualisations in this article use Wyscout data and were produced in the Twenty3 Content Toolbox.
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