Liverpool are running away with the Premier League title; their first since it was named such and their first league title in almost 30 years. They may have missed out on an invincible run, thanks to the second half capitulation at Watford. They may be on the verge of being ousted from the Champions League, having already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
But, there is no doubt that Liverpool are the best team in England right now; their front three the best in the world. However, there is one thing hidden in plain sight that has been overlooked by most journalists up until Liverpool’s defeat at Watford. People are not to blame because seldom do we see a team unbeaten in so long come under scrutiny.
Some might say their unbeaten run in the 2019-20 Premier League campaign was a veil that hid it from everyone; oblivious that Roberto Firmino had not scored a goal at Anfield for almost a year; 19 home games to be precise. Now, the debate might arise as to the fact that the Brazilian is a False Nine and it’s not really his mojo to score goals; that his style of play does not warrant goals; that he is much more than just numbers.
But, numbers are definitive; numbers are conclusive and for a forward, the numbers are rarely deceiving. When we talk about numbers, it is also our prerogative to inform you that Firmino has 9 assists at home in all competitions this season so far. To be fair, Roberto Firmino has never been a forward with big numbers, with his best goal tally for Liverpool in a Premier League season being 15 in the 2017-18 season.
In fact, his best single season record is still from his time at Hoffenheim, wherein he had 16 goals and 12 assists in Bundesliga, which actually has fewer matches compared to the Premier League. Let us put Firmino’s home record on hold for a few sentences and talk about his contribution (G+A) in big games this season.
Firmino has only 2 goals and no assists in 8 games against the ‘Big Six’ sides this season (7 of them in the Premier League and one in a cameo against Chelsea in the FA Cup). Compare these statistics to maybe Anthony Martial, a player who has received a lot of criticism this season, especially with his partner Marcus Rashford scoring freely.
Firmino has missed more big chances this season (19) than Martial has in the past three seasons (18).
Defensive striker 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/bAdcQJFPCJ
— George🥤 (@UtdCentro) March 7, 2020
The Frenchman has 4 goals in 7 Premier League games against the ‘Big Six’ and has 11 goals in total in the league. In comparison, Firmino has a greater overall contribution, with 15 goals and assists in the league so far; Martial has 14. To compare in terms of chances, Firmino has missed 19 big chances this season; Martial has missed 18 big chances in his last three seasons combined.
Few would remember Mohamed Salah and his 8-game goal drought during his first season at Liverpool. But, it was made a big deal back then, despite Salah’s staggering figures (19 goals, 7 assists) in the league that season. There are few quotes from experienced strikers that stand out in this regard.
Roberto Firmino in his last 19 games at Anfield:
🥅 – 58 shots on goal
🎯 – 17 shots on target (29.31% accuracy)
❌ – 16 big chances missed
📈 – 7.48 xGoals
⚽ – 0 goals
A bad run. pic.twitter.com/YEyQv91cI8
— UtdArena. (@utdarena) March 7, 2020
Manchester United Andy Cole expressed the hesitancy that comes with the drought. “You stop making the runs because you stop believing in yourself,” he said to ESPN. So, has Roberto Firmino stopped making runs that he used to?
The aforementioned tweet puts things into perspective. Firmino has had 58 chances on goal and has failed to find the back of the net, which means it’s not a matter of not making runs but a matter of applying the finish.
This is where former Arsenal striker and Golden Boot winner Alan Smith’s quotes come into the frame. The retired footballer endured a massive drought himself and he had this to say to ESPN.
“You’re not quite sure what you’re supposed to be doing, and almost dreading chances coming to you because you’re not [confident] at all. Shying away from getting into those goal-scoring positions is the worst thing you can do.”
This can put a lot of things into perspective. Roberto Firmino has more assists at home this season. Is it a case of playmaking? If that is the case, the numbers don’t really reflect in the away games, wherein he has scored 8 times and only a single assist to his name. It’s almost a case of his goals getting converted into assists when playing at home, which makes sense if you consider Smith’s statement.
Firmino’s assists at home might be coming from the fact that he is afraid to take the shot himself. His goal drought might be playing in his mind and acting as a mental barrier, which in turn sees him pass more even in positions where he usually goes for the goal himself.
Firmino’s shooting accuracy in the 2019-20 Premier League is 39%. But, his accuracy at home drops to just over 29%, which can be contributed to a lack of confidence. Yet, Firmino hasn’t been scrutinised because Liverpool are unbeaten at home so far this season in the Premier League and in the last 19 games. Compare that to Alexandre Lacazette going without an away goal for a year and you know how much criticism he faced.
Liverpool in Roberto Firmino’s last 19 games at Anfield:
1 draw https://t.co/C8xcf2fofJ
— Alex Mansfield (@el_mansfield) March 8, 2020
Liverpool’s results may not have been affected by Roberto Firmino’s goal drought at Anfield, but it is something for the club to worry about. Maybe, Jurgen Klopp’s interest in bringing in a striker is not as deluded as people make it out to be. As good as the Liverpool front three are, there are holes that can be laid bare for the world to see with a couple of defeats, as is the case with Firmino’s barren run at home.