How do you go about replacing such a unique player like Roberto Firmino? It’s a question that Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards will have a blueprint for, such is the world class nature of Liverpool’s recruitment process. But eventually replacing Liverpool’s number nine could be viewed as the most difficult recruitment conundrum in world football over the next few years. Indeed, replacing Firmino was once thought to be impossible, such is the nature of his game for Liverpool. Neverthless the Brazilian will turn 29 later this year which often marks the final year of a player’s physical peak before a gradual decline in levels beyond the age of 30. Read More
Such a situation means that finding a direct Firmino replacement isn’t an immediate concern, but will certainly be one that needs to be addressed in the next two or, at a push, three transfer windows. If Klopp wants to build a dynasty at Anfield, looking beyond this current record-breaking squad is a task as necessary as much as it is challenging. Firmino’s role as Liverpool’s number nine resembles nothing close to previous Reds who have worn the shirt with great success. Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres scored countless goals at Anfield, but the end of Firmino’s reign as the club’s number nine won’t be best quantified by his goal-scoring record. His role in dropping deep to work between the lines and thread the play together has been a key tool for Liverpool over the last few years. Much of the reason for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané scoring so many goals is in part due to Firmino’s contributions. So how do you replace such a rare player? Replacing him with just a player that is equally unique may well be the answer and Monday night’s Bundesliga action showed why Kai Havertz could be the man to be Klopp’s next centre forward. In trying to understand how Havertz could eventually fill the void left by Firmino, the tendencies shown by the 20-year-old in terms of positioning are a useful place to begin. After all, much of Firmino’s role is based on knitting play together for the likes of Salah and Mané to receive the ball in more threatening attacking positions. Since the start of the 2018/19 season, Havertz has played a number of roles in a 4-2-3-1 formation that indicate that he could be the man to take on a similar role. Whilst predominantly starting on the right of an attacking midfield three this season, the constant rotation of Leverkusen’s setup means that he often drifts inside by taking up a more central role. The rotational role that Havertz often adopts means that he demonstrates a unique awareness of where he needs to be at certain times to be most effective in attack. Taking up positions in pockets of space is a key part of that very involvement and lends many similarities to how Firmino drops in between the lines to thread attacking phases together. As shown below, Havertz drops into an area that gives him considerable space to combine the attack. The defender highlighted is left in a difficult position that means he either has to step out of the backline and risk leaving space in behind or allowing Havertz uncontested possession. (Image: Wyscout) On the flip side, the German is out of sight from Werder Bremen’s midfielders which further strengthens the efficacy of his position. As the phase of play materialises, Havertz’s involvement shows how he can use his positional awareness to turn a seemingly nonthreatening position into a goal-scoring opportunity. When looking for Firmino’s replacement, having a player that can replicate a similar role in terms of positioning is likely to be a top priority for Liverpool. There appears to be a number of reasons why Havertz could indeed be that player, but assessing his overall involvement in play indicates that replacing the Brazilian could add further threat to the Klopp’s attack. The role that Firmino plays is primarily based on the fact that he will provide chances for his teammates more than scoring himself. Data provider Wyscout credits the 28-year-old with 0.68 key passes per 90 minutes this season which begins to show how much of a creative outlet he is in attack. For Havertz, this is an area in which he also thrives in but the majority of his goal-scoring contributions thus far has been with goals. 20 goals in all competitions last season proved to be an impressive return considering his role as a versatile forward and such strengths could point towards a development of Liverpool’s attacking system if he were to join.
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Firmino had scored nine goals and provided a further seven assists in his final season at Hoffenheim before moving to Anfield in 2015. Such an unstated transfer at the time has clearly been proven a major success, but Havertz’s goal-scoring contributions might allow Liverpool to further develop their system. Two headed goals on Monday night against Werder Bremen came as the result of poor marking, but it equally showed how the young German is able to contribute in a number of ways. Such a multifaceted threat in attack makes him the ideal type of signing for Liverpool who favour players that can directly influence their precise system but also provide a number of notable attributes. When looking at Havertz’s performances over the next few weeks, the Liverpool hierarchy may well consider a significant bid for the youngster that shows a number of reasons why he could be the player to solve Liverpool’s post-Firmino conundrum.