Liverpool’s player of the season so far?
You would not find many Reds arguing against the brilliant Brazilian Roberto Firmino .
Firmino may have returned to pre-season training later than most of his Liverpool team-mates after helping Brazil win the Copa America.
But the 27-year-old has looked fitter and sharper than ever as Jurgen Klopp’s side have impressively picked up from where they left off last season.
The relentless Reds have won their opening their four games of the Premier League campaign going into Saturday’s visit of Newcastle United to Anfield.
That means their winning run in the league now stretches back a club-record 13 matches to March.
So it’s very much business as usual for the European champions.
But there has been a change in Firmino’s game – and it’s to do with his shooting.
The forward has had 17 shots at goal so far this season, which is more than any other player in the Premier League, including his Liverpool strike-partners Mohamed Salah (13) and Sadio Mane (7).
Firmino’s shots-per-game average for the previous three campaigns has been 2.3, 2.4 and 2.6, as confirmed by our football scouting writer Josh Williams in a recent episode of the Analysing Anfield tactics and analytics podcast.
And it is certainly paying dividends for the Reds with the former Hoffenheim forward’s superb goal in his man-of-the-match performance at Burnley before the international break making it two in three games.
Firmino’s form is one of the big talking points of the latest Allez Les Rouges fans’ podcast, hosted by Peter Hooton and featuring Kieth Culvin, Ste Monaghan and Spirit of Shankly chair Joe Blott.
Here’s some of what they had to say about Liverpool’s No 9…
Peter Hooton: Newcastle legend Alan Shearer said Roberto Firmino put in the perfect performance against Burnley. Do you think he’s doing anything differently this season?
Kieth Culvin: I think what it is with him, and I think it’s the same with Salah, is they’ve come back fitter than what they were last season. I noticed it against Manchester City (in the Community Shield), you could see they were so much sharper than they were at the start of last season, and it’s helped them start the season a lot better.
Must-read Liverpool FC stories
Joe Blott: There’s two things that strike me about him. The first is his attitude. He was on a roll toward the end of last season, but then he got injured just before the (Champions League) final, and was rightly taken off in it. But what summed up his spirit was that, as soon as the final whistle went, he did a flip over on the pitch, which sums up what he is. And the other thing is how he’s been released more by Fabinho. With Fabinho offering greater solidity in midfield, it gives Firmino greater freedom. I think Fabinho gives so much to the whole group, but for Firmino especially, as he doesn’t have to float too far now. He can float on the edge of the halfway line to the 18-yard box, and he rules that.
Peter Hooton: I agree. Firmino over the years has tended to drop deeper, but if you look at the stats now, he’s leading the most shots in the Premier League, which backs up the impression we’ve all had at the matches that he’s been shooting more. Five have been on target, leading to two goals, but he’s also got more touches in the first four games than any other forward in the Premier League, which just shows how integral he is to Liverpool’s style of play.
Ste Monaghan: What you are seeing now is a change in the front three. Whereas Salah was once the main striker, coming in from the wing, leaving the other two to play a bit deeper, in the past two seasons defences have been concentrating more on Salah, which gives the other two more freedom. Now the three of them are just moving all the time and teams just cannot cope.