This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Liverpool will look to continue their 100% start to the Premier League season against Newcastle on Saturday and Roberto Firmino could be key to their success.
The Brazilian has had a brilliant start to the league season and he will look to add to his two goals and two assists against the Magpies.
Newcastle are likely to concentrate on making the game difficult for Liverpool by keeping players behind the ball, as they did against Tottenham Hotspur, and therefore the intelligence of a player like Firmino could provide the difference.
“It’s unbelievable just how smart he is in decision-making, how good he is technically, how fit he is, how much he enjoys the really hard work.” – Jurgen Klopp on Roberto Firmino
He’s an ideal foil for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane either side of him, but all three will need to be at their best if they are to break down a stubborn Newcastle defence.
However, it is not just Newcastle’s backline which could look to contain Firmino’s influence as Sean Longstaff will also need to keep a close eye from deep-lying midfield.
Although the dynamics of this weekend’s clash are significantly different – Newcastle play a different system to Burnley’s 4-4-2 and won’t have home advantage – Firmino’s ability to sneak into the space between midfield and defence was a key factor in Liverpool’s win at Turf Moor last time out, according to The Athletic.
As Newcastle’s last visit to a top-six side showed, Liverpool are likely to have an overwhelming majority of the ball, and therefore large portions of the game are likely to be played in and around the Magpies’ final third. That was the nature of the Magpies’ 1-0 win against Spurs, when they recorded less than 20% possession.
Longstaff will have the responsibility of restricting Jurgen Klopp’s team through the middle and he should have a particular focus on passes to Firmino considering his recent form, although his return of 0.5 interceptions per game suggests he may struggle to perform that role effectively.
Meanwhile, the Liverpool forward should also look to press Longstaff into errors when he does get on the ball, and the fact he has won back possession 1.3 times per game this season, on average, shows he should be up to the task. After all, winning the ball back in dangerous areas will only aid Liverpool and taking the ball off a deep-lying midfielder will give them the opportunity to unleash Salah and Mane against a backline that will otherwise be well-protected.
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Based on Firmino’s form this season alone, there is a big task ahead for Longstaff. He’ll need to try and contain the Liverpool star, while ensuring he isn’t robbed in possession.
Firmino has made three key passes and three successful dribbles per game on average so far, and that flexibility in his play will surely cause problems against a side that hasn’t won at Anfield since 1994.