Why Roberto Firmino’s Movement is so Important for Liverpool

firmino2During Liverpool’s recent 2-1 victory over Leicester City, Mohamed Salah stole the headlines by scoring an impressive double. That made him the star of the show, but Roberto Firmino was equally important to the Reds. His ability to operate in the centre-forward position, through the use of some sharp and clever movement, was one of the highlights of Liverpool’s performance, and one of the key reasons for Salah’s goal-scoring heroics.

In short, Firmino cleared the space for the Egyptian right-winger to run in behind. This dynamic was equally true for Liverpool’s left-winger, Sadio Mane, who also used the former Hoffenheim man’s drifts into midfield as a cue to dart into the space behind Leicester’s back line. This, of course, isn’t anything new, but given the ability of Liverpool’s front three, Leicester’s defensive unit found it difficult to get a handle on any of them.

For one example of this, you only need to look at the way Firmino opened up the centre of the field for Mane in the second half. This didn’t lead to anything, largely because the Senegalese wide man strayed offside, but it was nonetheless a perfect illustration of what Liverpool were looking to do in attack.

To kick things off, Firmino dropped deep into midfield, and in order to counteract that, Wes Morgan stepped out from Leicester’s back four. Somewhat strangely, Morgan’s central defensive partner, Harry Maguire, followed suit, meaning that Firmino had dragged both central defenders a little further up the pitch than they probably should have been. This allowed both of Liverpool’s wingers to run into that central space behind Leicester’s centre-backs, and when Philippe Coutinho, the ball carrier, lofted a neat little dink into the path of Mane, it looked as though Liverpool would score. Mane quickly converted the chance, only to then look up and see the linesman holding his flag up in the air.

Despite that goal being ruled out, it’s important to note that this is exactly what Liverpool wanted. They wanted Firmino to play that False Nine role to perfection, and by floating away from the frontline and picking up positions in midfield, he did so beautifully. That then dragged Leicester’s central defenders out from their typical positions in the backline, and Mane and Salah didn’t need a second invitation to sprint into the space vacated by Firmino’s intuitive movement.

In fact, for both of Liverpool’s goals, Firmino found himself a long way off the shoulder of the last defender. He wasn’t looking to get in behind himself, and he wasn’t thinking solely of goals. Instead, he was deep in midfield, probing away with some typically slick passing play.

For Liverpool’s first strike against the Foxes, he floated out towards the touchline in order to receive a throw-in. He then dribbled away from Marc Albrighton, and when Vicente Iborra moved towards him, his slick footwork allowed him to evade the Spaniard as well. The Brazilian forward followed up with a sharp pass to find a teammate Emre Can in a slightly more advanced position, and when the German found Mane even further up the field, the ex-Red Bull Salzburg player produced an extraordinarily slick backheel to find Salah making one of his now-trademark runs in behind. The Egyptian happily did the rest, wriggling beyond a couple of markers to complete a wonderfully worked team goal.

For the Reds’ second, Firmino continued clearing space for others, though this time he was a little deeper again. He picked up a pass in a right-of-centre position, not all that far away from the centre of the pitch, and used the ball to play a one-two with Can. Between the two of them, they managed to draw Leicester’s central midfield duo a little further forward than usual. This left a nice little pocket in between the lines for James Milner, who had taken up that position due to Firmino’s drift into midfield.

The Brazilian then played a typically crisp pass into Milner’s feet, and following yet another tricky flick-on, Salah found himself up against Maguire. At this point, it’s worth noting that Maguire was completely isolated by the fact that Milner had drawn Morgan out of position, much in the same way as Firmino did for Mane’s disallowed goal (described above). That meant Salah just had to ease around the Englishman, and given how tight Maguire tried to get to him, all it took was a garden variety turn towards goal. Given his hot run of form, it wasn’t any surprise to see Salah put the ball into the back of the net, and in netting his 17th league goal of the season, he gave Liverpool victory.

Again, and despite the attention-grabbing efforts of those higher up the pitch, Firmino’s more subtle work in the build-up brought about the initial opening. This is something he does so well for Liverpool, and while an initial inspection of his match statistics – two shots, one key pass – might suggest a relatively quiet performance, his ability to clear space for others, in combination with his creative and probing passing play, meant that he was actually one of the star men.

Of course, Firmino’s role isn’t always this understated – he has 15 goals and seven assists across all competitions this campaign – but that’s not to say he wasn’t important to Liverpool’s win over the Foxes. In contrast, he was an absolute force, and with Jurgen Klopp’s men having now scored 50 goals in the current league season, his impact cannot be underestimated.

Firmino is the kind of player who is always searching for an opening, and his movement is so good that he doesn’t even need to get the ball in order to find one. That, in combination with his supreme ability on the ball, makes Liverpool’s frontline harmonise, and as the season progresses, Klopp will be looking for more of the same from his impressive Brazilian attacker.

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