Roberto Firmino has started the season like he means business. It isn’t something Liverpool fans are used to with the Brazilian usually looking off the pace when he returns to pre-season after a summer break.
It’s by no means comparable to a Sunday League player trotting round the pitch after a heavy Saturday night but it’s safe to say Firmino tends to enjoy his summer breaks. He picks up the pace after a few weeks but fans have got used to him needing to acclimatise to the demands of the Premier League once again.
This time around it was different.
From the off, the former Hoffenheim man looked sharp. He fired home expertly against Lyon in his first pre-season match and then had Rodri chasing shadows in the first half of the Community Shield in only his second outing after returning from the Copa America.
To say this was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. There had been a worry that without Sadio Mane, the pre-season version of Firmino wouldn’t be enough support for Mohamed Salah to get the Reds off to a good start.
But those fears disappeared just seven minutes into the clash against Manchester City when he expertly brought the ball under his spell before a quick turn had John Stones chasing shadows. He then slipped the ball to Mohamed Salah who latched onto it inside the penalty area but the Liverpool hitman couldn’t direct his shot on target.
The No.9 played one more key pass during that match as well as completing 100% of the dribbles he attempted. It was a quintessential Firmino performance, the only thing missing was an assist.
He followed that up by putting on a show against Norwich City as the Reds kicked off their Premier League campaign in style. The Brazilian did everything but get on the scoresheet.
The 27-year-old showed great composure after pinball in the Norwich penalty box to delicately weight a pass into Salah. The Egyptian finished with style but it was Firmino’s quick thinking which carved out the opportunity.
Firmino then almost scored one of the goals of the season after he somehow brought Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pass down on his chest before spinning in the area and connecting with his left foot.
He almost struck it too well with it being the ideal height for keeper Tim Krul.
Full of confidence, he was pulling out all of the party tricks to keep Anfield entertained in those opening 45 minutes.
While it’s a tiny sample size, just 86 minutes, the stats are encouraging. When compared to his averages for the month of August last season, he appeared in 338 Premier League minutes, it’s clear that the Brazil international has hit the ground running.
Firstly, his off the ball work. He won four possessions in the middle third against Norwich compared to the 1.86 he averaged in August last season. He attempted five dribbles on Friday, significantly more than the 2.92 he averaged last term.
Firmino had more touches in the penalty area, seven to 5.59, and he played more of his passes forward, 40% up from 23%, to really highlight his intentions. The Liverpool No.9 finished the match with a 1.19 expected goals total while his average per 90 in August during the 2018/19 campaign was 0.23.
As previously mentioned, the small sample size makes it difficult to really read into and this isn’t to say Firmino will continue to post these numbers throughout the year. But what this can be used for is to back up the point that he’s started the new season really brightly, and it can only be seen as a positive for Liverpool.
This is a player with 63 goal involvements in his last 96 games. Over that period he’s averaged a goal or an assist every 109 minutes in the Premier League and the Champions League. This is someone who usually has a sluggish start. With him looking this sharp so early on, there’s no reason he can’t surpass the numbers he posted during the 2017/18 season.