When it became clear over the summer that Liverpool's young star Raheem Sterling wasn't long for the club, fans began wondering who would be drafted in to replace him. A £50m sale for Sterling to Manchester City materialized, and not too long afterwards a new signing made his way to Merseyside in the form of Brazil and Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino.
Who is Roberto Firmino?
The £29 million price tag required to bring Firmino to Liverpool raised more than a few eyebrows for a player many fans hadn't heard of, and given Sterling's departure it was no surprise to see the comparisons rolling in. The unfortunate truth for Firmino in terms of initial expectations is that he is by no means a similar player to Liverpool's departed winger. In fact, Firmino is much better suited to playing centrally as an attacking midfielder or support striker, so the expectation that he would be a like-for-like replacement for Sterling was an unfair assessment from the start.
Unfortunately again, former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was reportedly not a fan of bringing in Firmino and only gave the move the green light once he was given permission to activate Christian Benteke's release clause from Aston Villa. The "committee buy" vs. "Rodgers buy" disparity at Liverpool showed itself on the pitch, with notable omissions on the pitch including Mamadou Sakho and Lazar Markovic.
Like Sakho and Markovic, Firmino was given a chance by Rodgers, but was also unfortunately used out of position as a wide man in Rodgers' system, where he looked off the pace (perhaps also in part due to a limited pre-season) and out of his element. An unfortunate back injury in the League Cup against Carlisle United put an end to his time in the side under Rodgers and he's only just recently returned to fitness.
I'm sure you noticed I used the word 'unfortunate' four times in the three paragraphs I used to describe Firmino, and until recently that was the best word to describe his time in the Premier League. But let's ask the question again now that Jurgen Klopp has taken over as manager of the Merseyside club:
Who is (the real) Roberto Firmino?
A fan-favorite at Hoffenheim, Firmino delivered 10 goals and 12 assists in Germany in the 2014-2015 season, leading Klopp to say he was for a few months "for sure the best player in the Bundesliga." The Brazilian was far from a one-season wonder, though, weighing in with 49 goals and 38 assists in 153 appearances since signing for the German club in 2011. There's obviously a lot of attacking potential there; Firmino just needs to be utilized properly to focus on his strengths in front of goal.
Klopp's arrival brought with it a new system focused on intense work rate off the ball, which is another area where Firmino thrives. He was consistently among the top players in the Bundesliga for successful tackles, which is highly impressive considering his status as an attacking midfielder or second striker.
Due to his time in Germany, Firmino is a player Klopp is familiar with, and he has played him to good effect in the middle of the pitch, as an attacking midfielder against AFC Bournemouth and as a striker for the first half against Chelsea. With Philippe Coutinho at his best cutting in from the left side of the attacking band of three, Firmino should establish himself as a regular starter in the center of midfield for Liverpool, at least until we see Benteke and Daniel Sturridge fit at the same time.
Why is now the time to buy?
With Firmino beginning to settle in to the style of play in the Premier League and gaining in confidence with Klopp at the helm, he could be a great buy for your fantasy teams over the coming weeks. A man-of-the-match performance against Bournemouth in the League Cup and an assist on Coutinho's first goal against Chelsea in Week 11 of the Premier League suggest that Firmino is beginning to round back into the form that made him such a star in the Bundesliga.
Also, a match away to Manchester City in Week 13 aside, Liverpool's upcoming schedule is favorable:
- Home vs. Crystal Palace
- Away vs. Manchester City
- Home vs. Swansea City
- Away vs. Newcastle
- Home vs. West Bromwich Albion
- Away vs. Watford FC
The price is right on Fantrax at just 6.68m, though he is listed as a forward. The price is a bit steeper in the official Fantasy Premier League game at 8.0m, though as a midfielder he could prove a great differential to someone like Coutinho, Christian Eriksen or Sadio Mane heading into the festive period.