Former Liverpool defender Markus Babbel has detailed the key aspects of Roberto Firmino’s game that have allowed Jurgen Klopp to convert him from attacking midfielder to central forward.
The repurposed No. 9 initially relocated to Anfield from Hoffenheim with a reputation as a skilful Brazilian playmaker, who had an eye for goal. But under Klopp’s tutelage, he has transitioned into a ‘selfless striker’, a false nine who drops deep and creates space for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to run into.
That phase of play has become synonymous with Klopp’s high-octane brand. As the Brazilian drags centre-backs out of position, Salah and Mane have freedom to wreak havoc. Indeed his back-to-goal role has been a cornerstone of Liverpool’s success since the German pitched up on Merseyside.
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Klopp has naturally been hailed as the mastermind behind that tactical tweak, but ex-Red Babbel, whom Firmino played under during the former’s brief stint as Hoffenheim boss in 2012, suggests the Liverpool forward always showcased a footballing intelligence that belied his raw skill.
Speaking to Squawka (courtesy of bet365), Babbel said: “I have not been surprised [by Firmino’s positional change] because he is more German than Brazilian in the way he thinks about the game.
"Of course, I saw him more as a No. 10 [at Hoffenheim], around the striker, but how good is he doing as a centre-forward? He’s fantastic to watch."
Roberto Firmino's former coach Markus Babbel spoke to @BenMGreen95 about the Brazilian's development.
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 31, 2022
“He’s very focused in training, he has very good discipline, he’s skilful. So I haven’t been surprised.
“Of course, I saw him more as a No. 10 [at Hoffenheim], around the striker, but how good is he doing as a centre-forward? He’s fantastic to watch.”
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The 55-capped Brazilian came through the ranks at Figueirense in his homeland before crossing the Atlantic in 2011 to play for Hoffenheim. Four years in Sinsheim saw his stock skyrocket, and Liverpool ultimately pounced seven years ago, initially joining under Brendan Rodgers.
However, since Klopp succeeded the now-Leicester boss just four months after Firmino signed, the 30-year-old has gone on to etch his name in Koppite folklore and continued to enhance his status as one of the game’s most talented forwards.
There are certainly arguments that Firmino isn’t quite as influential as he once was, starting just eight Premier League matches this term, but his recent goal against Arsenal just before the international break should serve as evidence that he is still a vital cog in Klopp’s well-oiled system.