Roberto Firmino is an enigma. There’s no getting around it.
The Brazilian forward has divided opinion for five seasons now and, despite people knowing exactly what the Liverpool No.9 is all about, they still allow his performances to frustrate. Talk inevitably turns to how he could be upgraded and how his position could be tweaked to make room for an out-and-out goalscorer.
Timo Werner is continually linked with an Anfield switch but a move for the RB Leipzig man is far from guaranteed. It’s easy to understand why so many are in favour of a move for the 24-year-old. Over the past four seasons, he’s netted 71 times in 118 Bundesliga appearances. For the first time in his career, the explosive forward is on course to hit 30 goals in all competitions.
Whereas Werner has hit 20 or more in all but one of his seasons with Die Rotten Bullen, Firmino surpassed the 20-goal barrier just once in five seasons in England.
In terms of goals, there’s really no comparison between the two. But Firmino offers much more than that. Even so, his failure to score at Anfield all season is a bit of a concern – especially when he’s missing gilt-edged chances like the one he fluffed to kill the game against Bournemouth.
He may have 15 goal involvements this term in the Premier League but his wastefulness in front of goal has been a lot more noticeable with Liverpool often eking out narrow victories. In previous campaigns, a Firmino miss was lost amongst a Mohamed Salah masterclass or a moment of brilliance from Sadio Mané in a rampant win.
The Brazil international is still coming up clutch when the Reds really need him, but his streaky finishing has always been a topic of conversation. Is he a bad finisher or has he just been unlucky?
Comparing Firmino’s 2018/19 season to the current campaign, there’s not a huge difference at first glance. In terms of open-play goals, his average on a per-90 basis is down by 0.08 but he’s still hitting 0.3.
Looking at his underlying numbers, his open-play expected goals and his open-play post-shot expected goals are eerily similar across the two seasons. That despite the fact he’s taking more shots per 90 this term. A difference of 0.66 might not seem like much but over an entire season, it's 25 more shots.
He’s having more efforts but, other than that, not much has changed for him in an attacking sense.
What we can take away from this snapshot, however, is that Firmino has been both unlucky and underwhelming in front of goal. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. For example, he’s devaluing his shots with his finishing. This is shown by his open-play post-shot expected goals being 0.07 down on his open-play expected goals average. The former takes into account shot location and shot placement.
The fact his open-play goals are down 0.1 on his open-play post-shot expected goals backs up the notion he’s not had much luck. In terms of totals, he’s 2.85 goals behind where his post-shot average would have him.
If luck was on his side he’d now be on ten goals and seven assists in the Premier League, and his performances might not be under the microscope quite as much.
When looking at Firmino’s open-play shot placement map, you can kind of understand why his numbers are the way they are. Firstly, of the 33 shots he’s had on target this season, 12 have landed centrally. He’s not scored any. That points to poor finishing.
However, the right side of the goal epitomises how unlucky he’s been. He’s hitting the corners but seeing his shots saved, scoring with just 30 per cent of those efforts on target. That's nearly half his conversion rate for the same area of the goal last term. For context, Salah scores 44 per cent of his shots to the right and 38 per cent to the left.
Firmino isn’t perfect but he’s also not as bad as some would have you believe. He’s by no means clinical but with a bit more luck he’d be on course for another 15-goal Premier League haul.