As they were in their sensational 2013/14 campaign, Liverpool are the highest scoring team in the Premier League to date. As such, they have several intriguing fantasy options to choose from. But I want to talk about one in particular due to his sensational form over the last 5 game weeks. Roberto Firmino has 3 goals and 4 assists in Liverpool’s last 5 matches where he had only produced 2 goals and 1 assist over the first 6 weeks of the season.
It’s easy to look at the fixture list and suggest that his uptick in form is due to an easier slate of games over the past few weeks. And that argument does have some merit. Liverpool faced Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea in their opening 6 fixtures while their last 5 have yielded only 1 (sort of) top team in Manchester United. That may represent part of the explanation, but Firmino himself seems to have flipped a switch in recent weeks as he becomes more and more familiar with playing as a number 9.
Towards the back end of last season, Firmino found himself usually playing as a second striker alongside Daniel Sturridge, typically in some version of a 4-4-2, a role he has played for much of his career. But Liverpool have switched to a 4-3-3 this year which has meant that Firmino has operated much more as a lone striker with Phillippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane typically providing support from wide areas. Save for the game against Leicester where he netted a brace, the first 6 weeks of the season appear now to have acted as an adjustment period for Firmino as the rest of his attacking partners did most of the heavy lifting.
Through the first 6 game weeks (in which he played 5 games, missing the win over Chelsea) Firmino averaged 2.8 shots a game. Over his last 5 matches, that number has risen to 3.4, and that number is skewed by the Man United game in which he only took one shot. If we remove that from the equation, he is averaging 4 shots per game in those other 4 matches. The contrast is even more stark given that he only averaged 2 shots per game over 31 Premier League appearances last season. And all (ALL) of that increase in shooting (up by 1.1 shots per game) from last season to this is coming from higher efficiency shots in the penalty area. This is indicative of his new, higher-up-the-pitch number 9 role, and this is especially saliva-inducing for fantasy players as he qualifies as a midfielder in the official game. Firmino has 5 goals this season so far, versus the 10 he scored last year. If that doesn’t get you to Homer Simpson levels of drool, I don’t know what will.
Playing as a center forward has seemingly reaped benefits for Firmino as an assister as well. He already has 5 on the season (per the official game, whoscored has only given him 3) which compares very favorably to the 7 that he registered all of last season. He is also averaging 2.9 key passes a game which is a massive jump from the 1.6 per game he averaged in 2015/16. His shooting and key pass numbers are higher than they even were in the Bundesliga at Hoffenheim where he was the unquestioned main man. (It’s like Pavlov is ringing a bell right now and I’m the dog) He’s not dribbling nearly as much, but that could be more a result of playing in a more advanced role, the fact that there are several other accomplished dribblers in this Liverpool team, and that Jurgen Klopp’s high pressing system doesn’t call for his players to beat 2 or 3 players on the regular.
Firmino is also getting dispossessed less per game than he has at any point during his career (just 1.5 times per game), he’s contesting and winning a good deal more aerial duels than he did last season(6.1 vs 2.3 duels per game, 1.6 vs 0.3 won duels per game), and he’s attempting and completing more passes at a higher success rate than last season (48.3 pass attempts per game at a 79% success rate this season vs 32.2 pass attempts per game at a 76% success rate last season). All of this is to say not just that Firmino has ramped up his touches and shots and basically everything else from last season, but that he’s operating at a more efficient level than at any other point in his career to date. He has become a key cog in the best attack in the league and he’s only £8.7m in the official game AND again, he’s classified as a midfielder. Get Firmino. Do it.