Since becoming Premier League champions, it is safe to say that Liverpool have struggled to maintain the high standards they set last year. It has been a horrendous season for the Reds, losing key players to injury and currently in a battle for European football next season. If Jurgen Klopp’s team continues to falter, they could still finish without any European football. The results simply have to improve.
Over the course of the season, many have tried to explain the reasons behind Liverpool’s poor season. Dubbed ‘bad champions’ by Roy Keane, have the Reds been lousy or unlucky?
Ultimately the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. It cannot be understated how much of a loss Virgil Van Dijk has been to Liverpool’s squad. Take away their two other senior centre backs and put Fabinho and Jordan Henderson from midfield in to defence, you can start to explain why they have struggled.
Liverpool now also face the problem of those two players being injured as well, leaving them with their sixth and seventh best centre backs. A dip in form given the injuries is acceptable.
However, Liverpool have also struggled offensively. Their front three have been fit generally all season but they too are facing difficulties.
Mohamed Salah, currently the Premier League’s top goal scorer with 17 goals, is an anomaly to the attacking force. Both Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have not looked their usual selves this season and have both come under fire from the Liverpool supporters.
It is easy to make a case for Mane’s poor form. Klopp’s first major signing and the first piece to the rebuild at Anfield has not performed to his usually high standards. But his quality cannot be questioned.
It is harder, however, to overlook Firmino’s poor form. The statistics show that he has dipped in form over the past two seasons.
Firmino’s role is a difficult one to explain. The creative non-scoring number nine is often the spark for Liverpool. He is played more as a false nine and usually very good at starting Liverpool’s press by tracking back. This allows the Reds to persistently attack and apply pressure to the oppositions’ defence.His technical ability is very impressive, the flair of a true Brazilian.
Klopp has explained many times in the past that his role is to help create chances for the wide players Salah and Mane to score. Though this has worked well in previous seasons, Firmino’s poor output has raised questions.
His already mediocre goals per game ratio is falling each season. In the 2018/19 season, his best season as a Liverpool player, it was 0.35. For this season it is just 0.23. More worryingly his passes and passes forward are also falling. If it is not his job to score a consistent level of goals, then his creative statistics have to impress.
This is again noticeable with Firmino creating less chances. He has only set up six big chances this season compared to eight in 2018/19 and 10 in 2019/20.
What does the future hold for Firmino?
With Firmino’s form continuing to dip, it might be time for Liverpool to consider other options for the 29-year-old.
It is unlikely that the Reds will look to sell the Brazilian, but with Diogo Jota’s impressive start at Liverpool prior to his injury, Firmino’s position is under threat.
One option that Liverpool could explore would be to change their formation to 4-2-3-1, playing Firmino in the number 10 role and Jota upfront. This would allow Firmino to create chances and potentially give him more space to do so whilst taking away his responsibility to consistently score goals.
Alternatively, Firmino could potentially be moved in to midfield, playing the 10 role from further back. This is something that Klopp has done with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and now Curtis Jones.
Firmino would suit this role given that he is used to tracking back to recover the ball and is often in the middle of the pitch.
Whatever Klopp ultimately chooses for Firmino will be important as he is a key player for Liverpool offensively. If his statistics continue to fall, a position change can be expected.