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Roberto Firmino is now the number nine Liverpool don't want

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Liverpool need a hero.

They need every sinew of a stretching and physically destroyed Steven Gerrard, with only one swing of a majestic right boot in him. They need Luis Suárez' wrecking ball of 2013/14. All of the heroes, we'll have them now if you don't mind.



There's no lack of effort or willingness to don the cape. This season will still likely see the club finish with the leading Premier League top scorer in Mohamed Salah. While Sadio Mané continues to get battered and bruised in the hope that he can make something happen in front of goal, if not for himself then a teammate. Even Trent Alexander-Arnold's second half performance had enough to see that he alone wanted to drag his club out of this turgid and depreciating malaise.



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There's a problem, however, when your particular cape is emblazoned with a number nine. For the first time in his Liverpool career, Roberto Firmino could do with being something he isn't. Liverpool are struggling to put chances away, they need a forward to lead the line and they need another natural goal scorer that isn't Salah. Firmino is none of these things.



In highlighting what he isn't, we inevitably lose sight of what Firmino is. A defender from the front, Liverpool's most selfless facilitator and a model of consistency. Yet now we pine for him to be something else, but doesn't work like that. He's emblematic of what this team is and does right, to change him is to change the entire team dynamic and blah, blah, blah.

You've heard all of this. I know it doesn't stop Liverpool losing games. It's not going well so now we need more. That's completely fine and valid, but be wise to maybe not confuse that with the narrative that Firmino has suddenly lost all effectiveness as a Liverpool player.

Firmino's goal and assist numbers are down season-on-season since his best return in 2017/18, with 27 goals and 17 assists all competitions. Since then he's gone on to post 16 goals and eight assists (2018/19), 12 goals and 13 assists (2019/20) and currently six goals and seven assists (2020/21). Yet the strange thing is, he seems to be taking more shots. Last season he took 100 shots with an on target percentage of 37. That was his highest since his debut season where he totalled 101 shots and an on target percentage of 44.6.

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We know what has always made Firmino stand out are his defensive and creative attributes which don't always get the glory. There are few in the Premier League who match him on 158 tackles won and 388 shot creating actions, but then who wants to see anything but hard data at a time of crisis?

This comes down to what is now needed. There seems to be more of a desire for the conventional. Therefore, if Firmino is in theory "leading the line" — he should be expected to do the number nine things we want on our terms. His current indecision in front of goal is symptomatic of a team with no confidence. He isn't on his own but right now we're all in a little less forgiving mood.

Yet to do away with Firmino in body and concept means we sweep aside the origins of this team and how it works. It's penchant for marginal gains in key areas has been what has made it supreme. If the eye test tells us he can no longer do what he once did, ask yourself what exactly that was in the context of what is now being expected of him in this situation?

You might find that he hasn't changed much at all. If he hasn't, then maybe we have.

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