Over the international break, I wrote this article about Roberto Firmino. At the time, Bobby had played just three games since returning from injury, an injury which saw Liverpool draw two of the three games that he was largely missing from, the 0-0s against Everton and United that saw Bobby feature for just half an hour in each, and Liverpool look toothless.
But since the Everton game, Bobby has returned to the team fit and firing, and Liverpool have won all six games, scoring 16 goals, and conceding six. More importantly, Bobby has picked up where he left off after the international break. Since I wrote the article hoping he would find some consistent form, he’s turned in three stellar performances, in my opinion man of the match in all three games.
In his last six games, Bobby Firmino has scored four goals and notched three assists, being involved in seven big chances, scoring four, creating two and missing one. On top of that, in the last six games, Bobby’s stats per 90 are all above their season averages. His shots are up from 2.50 to 2.97, his dribbles are up from 1.57 to 1.92, his key passes are up from 1.40 to 1.57 and, his tackles are up from 1.12 to 2.27.
Focusing briefly on the league, over his last four league games, Bobby is averaging 0.71 xG/90 and 0.38 xG/90, compared to his season averages of 0.48 and 0.22 respectively, with his xG Chain/90 (1.58) and xGBuild/90 (0.51) also both above their averages (0.84 and 0.31 respectively).
These stats are all over an incredibly small sample size of course, and shortening them even further, Bobby is averaging 3.33 shots, 2 dribbles, 2.33 key passes and 3 tackles since his return from the international break, with four goal contributions across those three games, either scoring from or creating a big chance in every game.
Another area of Bobby’s game that it’s apparent he’s stepping up in is his off-ball performances. Often he’s the leader of the press, and with his tackling numbers up, as well as the evidence from the Under Pressure podcast indicating he’s been our top presser in three of the five games prior to Porto, including against Southampton and Spurs, we can see Bobby starting to fulfil the role that he’s thrived in under Klopp. Moreover, he’s been covering more distance over the last few weeks, averaging 11.2 km/90 over the last six games, compared to 10.9km/90, his season average. That includes an 11.9km performance against Spurs, the second highest distance covered by a striker this season in the PL or UCL according to UP.
Moving away from the numbers, it’s obvious that Firmino is in hot form; he’s been playing well for about a month now, and the whole team is benefiting from it. When Bobby is able to drop deep and influence play more, as he’s been able to do in the last few weeks, then Salah and Mané can make runs in behind. When that’s combined with runners from midfield, something Naby Keita has added in the last couple of games, Bobby really is the lynchpin of our attacking play.
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how important to this team Bobby Firmino is, but it’s clear that his good form is benefiting the team. Bobby is an important player because he plays such a multi-faceted role in the team, and we’ve seen every facet of that in the last few weeks. He’s an aerial threat, and an important member of the team for defending set-pieces; he’s one of the team’s most creative and dynamic passers, he’s excellent at taking opposition players out of the game, and he’s terrific at creating space for others.
As I’ve mentioned though, the three most important aspects of Bobby’s game are the three that he’s been able to do with aplomb in recent weeks. He’s been dropping deep and linking play, allowing Liverpool’s attack to look more fluid and explosive; he’s able to get into the six-yard box and score tap-ins, as we’ve seen against Burnley and Porto; and his performance off-the-ball is the part of his game that sets him apart from other number nines in the league, and he’s produced that in spades since the international break.
None of this is to say that Bobby hasn’t been good this season, as I noted in my previous article, Bobby has had a very solid season. But he hasn’t been consistently contributing to the team, either in terms of end product or in terms of general game-play. It’s clear that a bit of rest, coupled with Klopp finding structural ways to get Bobby into the game, have made a huge impact, and this is easily Bobby’s most prolonged stretch of good form since the opening month of the season.
And that can only be a positive thing for Klopp’s side. Firmino is a key attacking cog in this side, and Liverpool have been absolutely crying out for him to play consistently well. With five Premier League games left and a Champions League semi-final on the horizon (in no small part due to Bobby’s excellent performance against Porto), Firmino is going to have to continue to play well if Liverpool are to achieve their aims.
Nevertheless, with Salah still struggling slightly for form and Mané’s hot streak potentially over, it’s hugely important for Liverpool that Firmino continues in the form that he’s in, with Liverpool’s number nine absolutely red hot.
One question is whether or not Bobby’s form is sustainable over the last few weeks of the season, and that question is inextricably linked to the extent that you think it’s tied in with how Klopp is using him. Clearly, he’s benefited from the return of the 4-3-3, which looks like it’s here to stay. But Bobby has also turned in several excellent individual moments that are still strong independently of the system he’s playing in.
Personally, I think that Bobby is hitting form at the right time, and that he’s going to be absolutely vital to getting Liverpool over the line in both the league and Europe. We’ll see whether or not that continues against Chelsea, when we can probably expect Klopp to use a more sterile midfield.
Either way, it’s nice to see you Bobby Firmino, please, please stick around.