So, Roberto Firmino is actually a Liverpool player, subject to a medical. I think it’s fair to say that no Liverpool fan saw this coming with the club in dire straits just weeks ago. Harsh questions have been asked about the manager’s position, the transfer committee and whether Liverpool could attract star talent without their talismanic captain and other leading players to play with week in, week out.
Alas, apparently the Reds can do this despite the manager still being under pressure and the squad still in need of serious refinement. Roberto Firmino is a real shot in the arm for every Liverpool supporter who knows anything about him and his arrival alongside the squad strengthening signings is most welcome. The 23 year old Brazilian attacker is a huge talent that has signed at just the right age – young enough for growth and resale value but old enough to know what first team football is all about.
Firmino is a very adaptable player and could play in a number of positions for Liverpool – as he did with his former side Hoffenheim. The Brazilian international has played central midfield, left midfield/left attacking midfield and even as the false nine – something Philippe Coutinho tried a couple of times last season. Indeed, both players are quite similar and it is genuinely exciting to think of the trickery the two Copa America roommates could conjure up.
As we can see above, Coutinho and Firmino have fairly similar outputs with Coutinho’s 13/14 figures shading most of the battles (deservedly so after a great season). Something Liverpool have struggled with this season is goals. Firmino will certainly deliver some more cutting edge to this otherwise toothless Liverpool side with goals and assists his area of expertise. Firmino has 32 goals in his last two seasons with Hoffenheim with 23 coming in the Bundesliga alone (16 in 13/14). One of Firmino’s best skills is his movement with the Brazilian likely to arrive late into the box to apply a deft finish (see the recent winner for Brazil vs Venezuela). Not only that, he’s a great dribbler and his close control is perhaps his biggest on the ball asset. The most interesting questions posed by Firmino’s arrival at Anfield are the issues surrounding the starting XI. Just how will Liverpool line-up with their new star. I’ll attempt to explain some possible line-ups below.
How Might LFC Line-up With Their New Schemer?
System One – 4D2 – Diamonds Are Forever
The first system we’re going to look at is the diamond midfield which Liverpool used to blistering effect in the 13/14 season. In this system, we see Firmino deployed as the number 10. With this shape, Coutinho and Firmino would be interchangeable and fluid with both able to combine in and around the opposition penalty area. Coutinho would pick the ball up from deep and find Firmino further up the pitch – preferably with a quick transition once the ball had been regained through pressing.
High intensity pressing is something which could return to Liverpool next season with all four midfielders shown here able to rush opponents high up the pitch. This pressing might be defensively strong enough to negate the need for an out-and-out defensive midfielder with Emre Can becoming the deepest midfielder. He could then drop in with the centre backs to receive the ball from Simon Mignolet and the four defenders meaning all of Liverpool’s front six would have great creative intent.
I’ve chosen Mario Balotelli as the second striker but that could be just about anyone, with Carlos Bacca also linked with a move to Merseyside. Daniel Sturridge isn’t going to be fit for the season opener vs Stoke City so another two strikers might arrive at Anfield before this system actually bears fruit. This system also assumes Nathaniel Clyne – heavily linked – will arrive whilst I’ve completely omitted Martin Skrtel from my brain when it comes to back fours.
In terms of the squad, Joe Allen and James Milner could replace either Jordan Henderson or Can as substitutes or when either needs a rest whilst Adam Lallana, Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic will battle it out for any chances in the front three.
System Two – 4231 – Brendan’s Baby
For whatever reason, Brendan Rodgers tried his hardest to shoehorn the Liverpool squad into this formation at the start of the 14/15 season despite the success of the 4-Diamond-2 in 13/14. Nobody could really see what the reason was for this change of heart other than that Jose Mourinho loves the formation and Rodgers was obviously a pupil of his teachings during their shared time at Chelsea. Liverpool didn’t fit the system and simply couldn’t compete whilst in the shape.
Now, personally, I’m not a huge lover of this formation because it can often leave the lone striker feeling isolated and frustrated. However, with Firmino in the ten or in the left midfield slot with Coutinho occupying the other available position, players should be able to move beyond the striker at will – something Firmino loves to do.
Whilst playing on the left for Hoffenheim, Firmino has shown his desire to cut inside and join the action centrally. This would make things very tight around the opposition’s penalty area but with the movement of a fully fit Sturridge and the creativity of Coutinho and Firmino the formation might pay more dividends than last year.
Utilising a back four would also bring the best out of Alberto Moreno – hit and miss during his debut Liverpool season. Moreno seems to prefer the deeper nature of a traditional back four as opposed to the left wing-back role he assumed during the months in-which the back three was used. Moreno would have free reign down the left with Firmino cutting inside and dragging the right-back in-field. All that would be needed would be accurate pullbacks from Moreno with midfielders arriving late into the area to finish any chances.
System Three – 343 – The Box Midfield
343 was a sort of plaster over Liverpool’s gaping wounds between January and the Manchester United match at Anfield. Swansea City were probably the first side to actually figure out Liverpool’s bold new system but it was the defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal which really destroyed the confidence in this formation.
The best thing about this system is that when it works it helps you to dominate the midfield battle – something Liverpool couldn’t really do at times last season. The system also gets your best attacking talents tight together and allows them to really bounce off each other. Lallana is the man to make way for Firmino here with Skrtel also allowed back into my thoughts because he’s decent in a back three because, well, he hasn’t much to do except slide about. Ilori comes in so that Emre Can remains in midfield although Milner could quite easily be seen here with Rodgers not fully accepting Can’s credentials as a central midfield player. Allen could also be deployed in the more defensive two if needs be. The frontman would hopefully be less isolated than last year, especially if Liverpool play with a higher tempo than last year’s stagnant possession based game.
Those are the three systems that I believe Liverpool will use with Firmino now part of the squad – the 4231 could even be morphed into a 433. There’s no doubt that Liverpool should now build their squad around the two Brazilians they have at their disposal especially with Raheem Sterling set to leave (hence him being omitted from the above). Let’s hope this heralds the start of a great summer for the Reds.