Why Roberto Firmino is not irreplaceable at Liverpool
Ask Liverpool fans whom they'd most loathe losing. Roberto Firmino probably tops the list. Despite Mohamed Salah's scoring exploits and Sadio Mane's continued excellence, the Brazilian is key to the Reds' attack. Signed by Brendan Rodgers, Firmino struggled at first to find his place at Anfield. Under Jurgen Klopp, he's developed into Europe's best false nine.
As such, nobody batted an eyelid at reports Barcelona are sizing up Firmino as Luis Suarez's replacement. Firmino's shone in the Premier League for a while now. It was only a matter of time before elite clubs began showing interest. The Blaugrana are simply ahead of the competition.
Usually, smoke signals fire. Liverpool will be particularly concerned about losing another star to the Spanish champions. Javier Mascherano, Suarez and Philippe Coutinho can tell you about the well-worn, one-way path from Anfield to the Nou Camp.
On its face, losing Firmino represents a blow to Jurgen Klopp. The German is building a squad to challenge for titles. Losing his first-choice striker removes a cornerstone when he's putting the finishing touches on the roof. Examine Klopp's entire blueprint, though, and Firmino's departure isn't the major blow it seems.
The numbers alone prove the one-time Hoffenheim standout can be replaced. He's scored 38 and assisted on 27 Premier League goals in his career. That averages out to being directly involved in one goal every 133 minutes, or nearly a game-and-a-half, not bad but not outstanding. Harry Kane finds a goal for Tottenham every 99 minutes over his Premier League career, Sergio Aguero once every 83 for Manchester City. They're much closer to indispensable than Firmino and Pep Guardiola tried to replace Aguero with Gabriel Jesus.
Even Romelu Lukaku, a striker struggling to prove he isn't a flat track bully claims a better goal rate at 1:121 minutes.
Consider the money Liverpool can command for his signature in the modern market. It isn't difficult to imagine they can find someone to fill the void. Until his injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was making the Kop forget Philippe Coutinho. Given the Reds impressive transfer dealings of late, there's every reason to believe they can attract a top player. Picking up a talent to match Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero would improve the team. It would have certainly helped them in the draw with Arsenal. A true top striker would have taken the chance the Brazilian put onto the bar.
Of course, Firmino’s importance to this Liverpool team goes beyond his goals and assists. Nobody fits into Klopp’s preferred style better than the Brazilian. His energy and intelligence on the pitch is key to the German’s high pressing style. That is where his value lies.
Except, Liverpool are moving away from that style. Three years into Klopp’s reign and they’re moving further and further away from the Gengen press philosophy. They still press, albeit far more selectively.
Early season numbers reveal they press less frequently than four of the current top six and less than the likes of Watford, Fulham and Crystal Palace. The German has adapted to ensure a balance between attack and defence. Firmino's understanding grows less important with every passing match.
We're seeing increasingly varied styles in the PL this year, Sarri's Chelsea working like mad to win possession, and Liverpool letting up on the press is definitely a thing. https://t.co/s2lp8omErj
Xherdan Shaqiri's signing further illustrates Liverpool's changing style. In the past, there was no place in Klopp's side for a creative number ten of that ilk. This season, Klopp is changing tack to accommodate the Swiss dynamo and it's paying dividends.
Replacing Firmino is now an easier task than it once was. liverpool needn't search for a like-for-like stand-in for the unique star. They can recruit someone with a different skill set who may suit them better moving forward.
This is not to say losing Firmino would not be a blow. Let's not be foolish. He fits their system, posts good numbers and, crucially, has a superb relationship with his fellow forwards. Liverpool’s current front three ranks among the best in Europe. But there is a difference between being a significant loss and irreplaceable. It took years for the Reds to recover from losing Mascherano and Suarez to Barcelona, and Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid. Roberto Firmino is a top talent but still not in their league.