Roberto Firmino has endured arguably his most difficult season on Merseyside since arriving from Hoffenheim in 2015.
The Brazilian has been an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s red resurgence, but the Premier League champions in waiting have enjoyed much of their success in 2019/20 without seeing the best of their No.9 - in front of goal, at least.
Anfield has, bizarrely, not seen a Firmino goal in this Premier League campaign, a drought that extended to all competitions until his extra-time strike against Atletico Madrid in the last game before football’s hibernation.
When looking at expected goals (xG), the 28-year-old has been wasteful. He has underperformed his xG rating by almost half, with his eight league goals surpassed by a 15.5 xG total – the second highest discrepancy in the division.
Let’s compare Firmino with some of the best forwards in the league. Jamie Vardy leads the Golden Boot race with 19 goals, scoring at a rate of 0.77 goals P90 and exceeding his xG P90 of 0.58.
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang similarly scores more than he ought to, with 0.66 G90 on 0.57 xG90.
Vardy and Aubameyang are scoring more goals with less shots per 90 and are overperforming their xG.
But it's well documented that Klopp admires Firmino for far more than his goalscoring prowess, and it's here that he shows his value and, why, there is hesitance at Anfield to break up their forward trifecta.
Firmino’s seven Premier League assists this season are only bettered by Kevin de Bruyne (16), Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) and Riyad Mahrez (8).
As a deep lying forward, the Brazilian frequently involves himself in the build-up of Liverpool’s attacks. xG Chain P90 attempts to add up the total xG of all possessions the player is in involved in and his total of 0.92 P90 far outweighs rival centre-forwards such as Vardy or Auba. What does this mean? Well, Firmino's involvement in the creation of chances as well as finishing them is markedly above other central strikers.
Only De Bruyne has a higher xG Chain than Firmino of all players in the Premier League, and amongst forwards to have played at least 15 games this season, the Brazilian is in the top five in the league for each of xG Chain P90 and xG BuildUp P90.
The man with the pearly whites plays a midfielder’s role from the centre forward position, and what the stats cannot indicate is the amount of space he leaves behind him for Mo Salah and Sadio Mane to penetrate.
The circumstances in which his goals are scored is also important. Late winners away at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace, the only goal in a trip to Tottenham Hotspur, a brace against Leicester and a decisive strike against Chelsea headline his goals this season. Indeed, of his eight Premier League goals, six are deemed by FC to be decisive.
Add to that winning goals in both the semi-final and final of the Club World Cup in Qatar, and Firmino’s knack for the big occasion becomes very apparent.
FIRMINO v WERNER
What is interesting however, is a comparison between the Firmino and rumoured Reds target Timo Werner.
Werner outranks Liverpool’s No. 9 in Key Passes P90 and Assists P90 minutes as well as xG Chain P90, all while obliterating the Brazilian in goals and expected goals P90.
The idea of the Leipzig star coming to Anfield has been met with scratched heads and questions of where he will play, but taking some goalscoring burden off Firmino and allowing the Brazilian to be a naturally creative No. 10 could be the way to go.
Firmino v Werner
|Player||Team||xG||Goals||xA||Assists||xG Chain P90||Key Passes P90|
|Timo Werner||RB Leipzig||20.55||24||8.64||7||1.2||1.6|
There is certainly more to scoring the goal for a centre-forward at Liverpool, as the data indicates. The ball has to get there first and as far as Liverpool are concerned, Firmino is vital whether or not he is the one to boot it in.
Without even taking into account his unrivalled ability to press defenders and win the ball back, Firmino is just about as good as it gets at what he does in the Premier League.
The question does remain, however, is there someone out there that can match him at what he does well and improve on some of his shortcomings? In Werner, perhaps Klopp hopes he will have his man.
For now, the idea of Firmino leaving Liverpool or being replaced in the side is unlikely, but at 28 years of age and with some interesting options out there, perhaps the search for his heir will be concluded sooner rather than later.