How did Liverpool combat the absence of Roberto Firmino against Chelsea?
In the days leading up to Friday’s highly anticipated match-up between Liverpool and Chelsea, there had been much talk of how The Reds’ attack would line up against Chelsea’s potentially frail back-line. While there was debate over the involvement of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, with Klopp’s men performing so superbly in their absence against Leicester City in the previous game, there seemed to be no doubts that Roberto Firmino would retain his integral role in their attack.
So, when news emerged just over an hour before the game that the Brazilian had suffered a minor injury during training and that Klopp had opted to leave him out for the tough trip to Stamford Bridge, there was the belief that this would seriously dent Liverpool’s chances of taking a positive result with them back to Merseyside. With the decision taken out of his hands in many ways, the former Dortmund boss opted for an attacking three of Coutinho, Mane and Sturridge, with Lallana and Wijnaldum keeping their places as forward-thinking midfielders.
It was clear that Liverpool would have to adapt to Roberto Firmino’s absence, as his impact all across the pitch has proved vital for them during the campaign so far. A brace against The Foxes obviously stands out, but his goal return is in fact only part of his contribution. Firmino’s tireless work both pressing from the front and tracking back earned praise from Klopp during pre-season, with the German declaring him ‘the star of pre-season’ even though he had failed to find the back of the net. Before the fifth round of Premier League fixtures, Liverpool’s number 11 had covered 46.9 km, but it is the intensity and timing of this mileage that is of most use to The Reds.
Bemoaning the fact that Liverpool would be without their ‘first real defender’ with the Brazilian’s absence from the starting XI, Klopp again hailed the integral nature of his work off the ball. Having recently revealed that he operated in the back-line until the age of 18, it is clear that Firmino appreciates all aspects of the game and is relishing his role as the ‘trigger man’ when it comes to Liverpool’s potent pressing game. When he detects an opportunity to regain possession, it is the £29 million signing who signals the burst, willingly followed up by his team-mates.
All of this points to the fact that The Reds had their work cut out to cope with Firmino missing from their team. It was a group effort that overcame that particular adversity, with solid performances all over the field. This started from the front, with a seemingly refreshed and reinvigorated Daniel Sturridge pressing more energetically than usual, aiming to match the intensity of Firmino in this regard.
Although he did not score against Leicester City, the former Blue had a hand in almost all of the goals and was a constant threat against Ranieri’s men. When facing his former side on Friday, he closed down the defenders with great vigour, while not detracting from his undeniable quality in the final third.
As may have been expected, Sturridge’s extra endeavour did take its toll, and so Klopp took the decision to replace him with the exceptionally athletic Divock Origi when the Englishman was clearly tiring. This proved to be a wise move, as it gave Liverpool an outlet, and bar a slight lack of fortune, Origi could have even put the game to bed with a header in the second half.
Sturridge does bring something slightly different to Firmino up front, but the fact that Klopp felt the need to withdraw him after only an hour demonstrates that there is still some way to go before the left-footer can be asked to play with the same approach as the Brazilian.
Once more, new signing Sadio Mane was relentless in his work up and down the right flank, and the in-form new signing continued where he had left off against Leicester City. Never leaving Nathaniel Clyne isolated to the threat of the tricky Eden Hazard and overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta, the Senegalese exhibited a work ethic that Firmino himself would have been proud of, but with searing pace to go with it. The former Southampton man did also drift in field on more than one occasion when attacking, and although he does not quite possess the same guile as The Reds’ number 11, this variation in positioning and approach caused Chelsea the same problems which Firmino would have done.
Having been given a partial rest last weekend after his international exploits, Philippe Coutinho was the man tasked with replacing Roberto Firmino’s creativity – hardly something which the number 10 is in short supply of. Of course, it was the former Inter Milan youngster who whipped in the superb cross for Lovren’s opener, but he put in almost a complete display, only really missing a goal.
When Coutinho is on song, there are few better at gliding past despairing challenges in the midfield – always with his head up – and sending his side on the way forward. This dribbling ability and balance was certainly on show against Chelsea and by combining his guile with the hard work that Jurgen Klopp demands, Liverpool did not miss Firmino’s efforts on the left side.
Further back into midfield, Adam Lallana continued to work his socks off – something which has been glaringly obvious this season and to a slightly lesser extent towards the tail end of last term. Georginio Wijnaldum was superb once again in the transition zones, helping to make rapid switches between defence and attack, and also performing recovery runs reminiscent of Jordan Henderson a few seasons ago when Steven Gerrard was alongside the former Sunderland man. In between the lines – the areas where Roberto Firmino loves to operate – Liverpool simply had more bodies, with each of them operating at a higher intensity than their opposite number.
Roberto Firmino’s injury is only expected to be a minor one – indeed he could possibly still pulled on the red jersey on Friday – so it is probable that he will return to the starting XI for Liverpool’s next league match.
Here, he will be looking to maintain his increasingly high standards that had so far failed to receive the recognition they deserve on the international stage, though recent reports suggest that both Firmino and Coutinho will be in his next squad. While on a personal level, this previous inability to make it into the squad must have been disappointing for the player himself, there is no doubt that Liverpool will continue to reap the rewards of an energetic and fresh Roberto Firmino in the weeks and months to come.
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