Finding the next Roberto Firmino – Tactical Analysis

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Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, the poster boys of a modern day football front three and all that can be accomplished, are all out of contract at the end of the 2022-23 season. The electric trio defined Liverpool’s success in the late 2010s, including a Premier League and UEFA Champions League triumph, and a runners-up medal in both competitions. But now approaching or already hitting 30 years old, Liverpool need to start to prepare for life without their illustrious front three. So with that, in this tactical transfer series, we attempt to identify the next Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. We’re looking for players not only capable of leading the Reds to more title triumphs, but players young enough to do so over the next five years. Today, we start with finding the next Roberto Firmino.

CRITERIA

Before delving into the realm of potential replacements for three modern greats, we first must come to a deeper understanding of Liverpool’s style of play. Assuming Jurgen Klopp stays at the helm of Liverpool, you can expect principles like high-pressing, high-tempo passing, intellectual build-up, positional play, and “heavy-metal football” to remain in-tact. As a result, the players they bring in need to fit this style. They need to be capable pressers, and already have built-in experience playing for a side that favours pressing high over sitting deep. They need to be capable on the ball and intelligent with their movement, capable of playing in a similar vein to Liverpool’s current front-three. That includes wingers pacing up the field at great speed ahead of the striker, with the striker almost playing like a false nine or attacking midfielder. Finally, the speed of play in everything they do needs to be high. Heavy-metal football is taxing and trying, so durability in the form of a low injury record will be key, in addition to all other metrics of athleticism such as speed, acceleration and physicality.

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It’s worth noting that we’re also trying to replace players approaching their 30s, in the quest to identify long-term replacements capable of still reaching their very best, similar to what Liverpool accomplished when they signed each of the Liverpool trio in the first place. As a result, we’re only looking at players under the age of 26. The replacements could easily have a year to learn from their proposed predecessor before they fully go through the exit door, and so they need to be patient enough not to necessarily need to fit in right away.

So with that in mind, let’s now take a look at the best possible replacements for these three Liverpool legends, starting with Roberto Firmino.

THE ROLE OF ROBERTO FIRMINO

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Roberto Firmino was part of a process in the Premier League whereby strikers became so much more than just target men waiting at the top of the attack to head in goals. In fact, Firmino was never that type of player, and instead drifted into midfield to pick up possession, vacating space for the wingers to sprint in behind.

Firmino was, and still is, a quality chance creator, dribbler, ball-carrier, and an energetic presser. He outperforms most others in his position in attacking stats like progressive passes, given that he’s often dropping so deep, and in defensive stats like pressures and tackles given that he’s often the one leading Liverpool’s press. The one side of his game that always looked like it could improve was his form in front of goal, but Firmino never took up the kinds of positions Mane and Salah did quite as often.

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We first must note that Diogo Jota has already fantastically replaced Firmino in Liverpool’s eleven, fulfilling the same false nine role. But Jota is a versatile player who could play anywhere across Liverpool’s front-three, and the team could still use a man to challenge for a place in a truly Firmino way. Jota is an exceptional finisher and better goal-scorer than Firmino, but Firmino is better in possession, more intelligent with his timing of when to drift deep, and even a better creator. As a result, the search goes on, but we can be more shrewd in our selections. Jota already being at the club means Firmino’s role is the one with the lowest need of urgency in replacing. A young gun could be the way to go as a result.

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It’s also worth nothing that the Brazilian actually came to Liverpool as an attacking midfielder, who had frequently played even deeper in central midfield. He was never really meant to be a centre-forward, although he showed the ability to play the position at Hoffenheim and lead the line all on his own. Our search is therefore not limited to strikers. Liverpool could easily convert another creative number ten into their number nine role, with the understanding that there’s little discrepancy between the two. The search is therefore perhaps the most open of all three, with a variety of potential candidates that could bring a different piece of Firmino’s game to the puzzle. So let’s identify who that man could be.

the candidates

1. AMINE GOUIRI

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21-year-old French forward Amine Gouiri has impressed in Ligue 1 so far this season at Nice, leading their charge toward third place in the table. Gouiri is not a prolific number nine, but he does score and assist goals for fun, with Firmino like numbers of 9 goals and 6 assists so far this season. He’s currently on track to better the tally he managed last season in his breakthrough year, where he netted 12 goals with 7 assists in 34 league appearances. Importantly, Gouiri is also a solid presser, and has high tackling numbers (1.09 per 90). It would be the side of his game he would most have to adapt, but from a possession perspective, the 5’10 forward would fit in well. The French forward loves a bit of flair, and an outside of the boot pass, almost as if he’s paying an homage to Firmino every time he puts on a Nice shirt. He also possesses the same dazzling footwork and insane trickery to his game, which matches well to the Brazilian striker’s best moments in a Liverpool shirt.

Beyond trickery and goal-scoring, Gouiri carries the ball well, frequently drops into build-up situations, and completes more progressive passes than most forwards in France. Still only 21, Amine Gouiri could develop the pressing, heavy metal out of possession side of his game, while continuing to be an excellent chance creator, and capable goal-scorer. This would be an excellent choice for any team looking to bring in a striker, and stylistically fits Liverpool’s style in most metrics.

2. JULIAN ALVAREZ

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Julian Alvarez has caught the attention of scouts and managers worldwide, despite still playing in the Argentine Primera Liga. The River Plate man scored 18 goals with 6 assists in 21 matches last season, while leading the team’s press with his energetic running style. The 21-year-old is exceptional at running in behind an opposition’s back-line, and he is capable of linking up with others, although not to the extent of the other players listed here. More of a powerful runner than a tricky one, Alvarez would still fit in well to Liverpool’s heavy metal, high pressing system. Whether it’s the best stylistic fit could be called into question given that he’s much more about carrying and dribbling than passing. But Alvarez is undoubtedly a striker who will be moving to one of Europe’s elite clubs very soon, and Liverpool could easily put their name in the hat and work to develop his ability on the ball.

3. GEORGINIO RUTTER

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From a former Hoffenheim man to a current one, perhaps the perfect Firmino replacement could be French forward Georginio Rutter. Rutter is just 19 years old and has played fewer than 1000 minutes this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from finding his way to five goals and two assists in the league so far. Slowly developing into a key figure for Hoffenheim under Sebastian Hoeneß, Georginio can play anywhere across the front-line, including in both the number nine and number ten positions. He certainly fits the bill in terms of versatility, but as expected for a Bundesliga man, he’s also attained quite a bit of pressing and defensive knowledge in his time with 1899. He’s won 1.32 tackles per 90, which is only bettered by Firmino himself among the players we’ve studied. Encouragingly, his tackle win percentage is significantly higher than the Brazilian’s, and so too are his pressing numbers on a per 90 basis. The one slight on Georginio’s case beyond his unproven status would be his abysmal pass completion percentage (59%). This can be developed, but likely not to the height of a player like Firmino who is so exceptional in build-up and progression phases. But with his work on and off the ball, Georginio’s numbers at the front end of the pitch are certainly encouraging, and certainly Firmino-esque.

4. VICTOR OSIMHEN

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Napoli’s star forward Victor Osimhen is another name who compares extraordinarily well to Roberto Firmino’s intense pressing style. The Nigerian is more of a goal-scorer than a build-up extraordinaire, but to be fair, so too was Diogo Jota before joining Wolves. Osimhen’s pass percentage of 70% will need to be drastically improved, but what he lacks in passing he certainly makes up for in pace and power. In fact, the 23-year-old is a more powerful ball carrier, dribbler and presser than Firmino, even if those skills haven’t been quite as refined as the Brazilian’s twinkle toes and intelligence on and off the ball. Probably better suited to a Chelsea or Inter Milan, Osimhen would still be an excellent acquisition for Liverpool.

5. LAUTARO MARTINEZ

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The most clinical of goal-scorers to make our cut, Lautaro Martinez is the complete package when it comes to a centre-forward, with greater goal-scoring presence to most others around the world. He’s not as talented in possession as Firmino, which we’ve found to be a common trend here, but he’s another excellent ball carrier. Also coming from a line of high pressing coaches like Antonio Conte and Simone Inzaghi, Lautaro understands his role off the ball, and would be more than capable of filling Firmino’s boots. The Argentine’s tackle percentage sits at 60% this season, significantly more than that of Jota and the man we’re attempting to replace here. He’s evidently a different type of forward, with greater shooting boots and threat in front of goal, but he could excellently fit into Liverpool’s 4-3-3 as a lone centre-forward, dropping in and out of the number nine role.

VERDICT

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As we found out, finding Roberto Firmino’s replacement at Liverpool is a tough task. He’s a strangely unique player, who does just about everything in the game to great effect. The closest comparisons like Amine Gouiri and Georginio Rutter are likely not ready for the step up to Liverpool, and close clones like Kelechi Iheanacho will likely never be ready for that kind of step up. On the other side of the coin, capable goal-scorers and the players most capable of filling Firmino’s boots in terms of talent, usually play in a very different ways for their team. With all of this in mind, we suggest Lautaro Martinez be the top target for Liverpool. Like Firmino, he’s good at just about every aspect of the game. What he lacks in passing percentage and build-up play, he makes up for in providing a greater goal-scoring threat. Diogo Jota could be the man dropping in deep instead as Liverpool’s tactics evolve, as Lautaro comes alive in the eighteen yard box. This would be a fantastic signing for the Reds, but also an expensive one. The Argentinean is currently valued by Transfermarkt at £72 million pounds, with several years under his belt now as one of Serie A’s top scorers. So if they’re not willing to splash the cash, they could easily go for the young 19-year-old Georginio Rutter, who will likely develop into something special, but in a Firmino-esque way where he’ll be more about work off the ball than about banging in the goals. Amine Gouiri would be the third choice, given that he plays like a carbon copy of Roberto Firmino with the ball at his feet, but falls slightly short when it comes to the defensive side of the game.


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So there it is! Our attempt to find the next Roberto Firmino figure for Liverpool, in this tactical analysis. Be sure to check out more from our Transfer Market Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Also be sure to check out more from this series, where we analyze the next Mohamed Salah, and the next Sadio Mane. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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