There’s no doubt who Liverpool’s most highly rated signing so far this summer is; Hoffenheim’s Brazilian attacker Roberto Firmino. As is customary around here, I’ve taken a look at his stats from last season to see what we can learn about him, and what he might contribute in the Premier League next season.
If I had more time I’d run the rule over 2013/14 too, as in simple terms his output of sixteen goals and eleven assists was superior to his latest campaign, but there’s still plenty of interesting stuff to dissect from 2014/15.
Firmino scored seven non-penalty goals in the league, and only Sterling managed to match that for Liverpool last season. He converted 7.4% of his shots (which is a little disappointing when league average is always around 10%), though by converting 10.9% of his shots in the box, he was at least ahead of Mario Balotelli (with 9.4%) in his last season at Milan.
The main cause of his low shot conversion rate was his mostly terrible shooting from outside the box. Firmino did at least score one goal from further than eighteen yards out, but only four of his other thirty-nine shots from distance were on target, meaning that 88% of his long rangers were either blocked or off target. This may be something to be wary of next season.
It also needs to be noted that although he converted four of the thirteen ‘big’ chances (which are defined as ‘situations where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range’) which is a par return from such opportunities, this does mean that he only converted 3.7% of his regular chances. A quick scan of his sixteen goals from 2013/14 reveals that nine of those were big chances, meaning that thirteen of his twenty-three league goals since August 2013 were clear-cut chances.
This is no slight on Firmino; around fifty percent of goals come from big chances anyway, so it’s not an issue that the Brazilian has done likewise. My concern at present is that Liverpool really struggled to create top quality scoring opportunities last season, so as such we should perhaps not expect a massive goal return from Firmino, though equally his presence will hopefully enable the Reds to create more clear-cut chances than they have done of late.
In terms of his own creativity, Firmino got ten assists in the Bundesliga, whilst Liverpool’s top goal creator in the league, Jordan Henderson, registered nine. His total of sixty-eight created chances was only bettered at Liverpool by Sterling, with seventy-five.
Not all chances are equal though, so let’s see how the players compare using my expected assists system. To the uninitiated, using average shot conversion figures we can get an idea of how many assists a player would be expected to create, based on the location of the chances they fashioned. In the table below, the Average Chance Quality scale goes from zero to ten, where zero would be all key passes received outside the final third, and ten means that all chances were in the centre of the box.
Firmino has done well here, and it’s also worth remembering that the Liverpool players’ figures include the Champions League games too. The Brazilian new boy didn’t create a single chance from a set play either, whereas the likes of Henderson, Coutinho and Gerrard all did.
Only five of Firmino’s chances were from crosses too, which fits in with Liverpool’s position of being the Premier League team who attempted the fewest crosses in the last two seasons, though of course if the much rumoured move for Christian Benteke comes off, this may change next season.
Roberto Firmino is also one of the top dribblers currently plying his trade in one of Europe’s big five leagues, as the figures from 2014/15 show here:
He may have completed over half of his 139 successful dribbles in deeper areas outside the final third, but he still managed to beat a man in the opponents’ defensive third almost twice per game on average (at once every forty-nine minutes).
To give that a little context, only Sterling, Ibe and Coutinho from Liverpool’s squad completed dribbles all over the pitch more often than Firmino did in the final third alone. Dribbling is more prevalent in Germany than it is England (for reasons unknown to me) but even so, those figures illustrate the frequency with which Liverpool’s latest Brazilian can take opponents out of the game.
What really impressed me most about Firmino’s stats though were the less glamorous figures, as they can tell you a lot about a player’s work rate and how they help the team as a whole.
Roberto Firmino made more successful tackles than any other attacking midfielder or striker in Europe’s big five leagues in 2014/15 (see below), and more than every single Red bar Henderson managed last season too.
He made a tackle every 33 minutes last season, and bear in mind that only nine players of any position in the Premier League (with a minimum of 33 appearances, as per Firmino) made tackles more frequently than that in 2014/15.
Only 57 forwards or attacking midfielders in the English top flight made more tackles in total than Firmino managed in the final third alone. He also made a ball recovery in the attacking third every 117 minutes (when the very best at this do so between every 90 and 100 minutes), so there’s no doubt that he displays a ferocious work ethic for the good of the team, and is capable of defending from the front end of the pitch. His personal best for ball recoveries last season was thirteen, at home to Dortmund, and as this Twitter search shows, that’s not a figure that will be bettered too often.
To finish, I thought I’d try something a little different. The below heatmap shows how Firmino fared volume-wise in each of his thirty-three appearances for the five stats we’ve looked at here; shots, chances created, dribbles completed, ball recoveries and successful tackles. Each stat is measured against itself, so his best performance in each stat will be dark red, with the worst in white. The thirty-three games are split into three tables of eleven.
What I like here is that there aren’t many games with multiple light coloured boxes; in other words, he was usually contributing in one way or another, and often across a range of disciplines. Always making something happen. Look at the first of the three tables, for instance; in game two he didn’t create anything but completed lots of dribbles. The opposite was true in the seventh game, and then at the bottom of that table we see two games where he didn’t tackle much but he was clearly more busy taking shots or creating for teammates.
I have no idea how successful Firmino will ultimately prove to be at Anfield (though the stats generally suggest to me that he can do well), but it seems to me that he will bring an intensity that Liverpool so frequently lacked for huge stretches of last season, and for that alone I think he will quickly become a fans favourite at Anfield. Welcome to Liverpool, Roberto.