Why this 18 year old wonder kid is the perfect, long-term Firmino replacement

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Following his blockbuster £25million move from Birmingham to Dortmund, few would have expected Bellingham to perform like he has done. The 18 year old wonderkid has fitted into the Bundesliga with ease and there is no doubt that many of the European giants would be watching with a keen eye. One such club would be Liverpool FC, who are apparently willing to pay up to £100million for the teenager. If he does indeed end up completing this move, it begs the question: how exactly would he fit into Jurgen Klopp’s team? So sit back and read while I explain why Bellingham is the perfect, long-term Firmino replacement. 

Shooting

Bellingham predominantly operates as a midfielder while Firmino operates as a deeper lying forward and this is reflected in the amount of shots both players take. Firmino averages 2.9 shots per game with a 40% shot on target accuracy while Bellingham averages 1.6 shots per game with a 33% shot on target accuracy. Bellingham averages a high number of shots per 90 for a midfielder and his shot on target accuracy is also impressive for an 18 year old. Therefore, in my opinion, if Bellingham operated in a more forward role it wouldn’t take him long to achieve or even surpass Firmino’s shot numbers as he gets better with age. One of the criticisms aimed at Firmino is his lack of goals in the final third, this problem could potentially be fixed with Bellingham as the Dortmund player is already a decent goal scorer from midfield at the age of 18. If he was converted to play a Firmino role, then he could potentially score even more goals throughout the years as he matures in age even though goals aren’t the primary outcome of the role that Firmino plays.

Chance creation

Firmino and Bellingham are both elite chance creators however both players create chances in a different manner to each other. Firmino primarily creates chances via live ball situations and dribbles as he averages 2.6 shot creating actions per 90 via live ball situations and 0.4 shot creating actions per 90 via dribbles. Bellingham, on the other hand, has more varied chance creating methods, primarily creating chances via dribbles, fouls drawn and via live ball situations. He even creates 0.1 shots creating actions per 90 via his defensive actions due to his excellent high pressing skills and this would suit Liverpool well due to Klopp favouring a high pressing game. So, despite the fact that Firmino averages a higher amount of shot creating actions per 90 at 3.3 compared to Bellingham’s 2.3, Bellingham’s varied chance creating method would be more useful to this Liverpool side in the long term as Bellingham develops into a better player with age. 

Progressive passing and carrying

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Firmino is a very good ball carrier as he averages around 1.4 carries into the final third per 90 while Bellingham averages around 1.3. However, Bellingham is a more efficient ball carrier as he averages a higher percentage of his progressive carries into the final third. As mentioned before, both players are elite dribblers and this plays into their excellent ball carrying ability as they are very good at evading the opposition and getting past them with ease. In fact very few players in world football can top Bellingham’s 3.2 fouls drawn per 90, as the opposition are simply left with no choice but to foul him. This unique ability can lead to his team creating chances from freekicks due to the fouls he wins high up the pitch. On the other hand, Firmino is a better progressive passer as he averages around 4.3 progressive passes per 90 compared to the Englishman’s 3.6.

Ability to find space

The heat map above is Bellingham’s from the 20/21 campaign and it clearly shows that Bellingham tends to drift around the pitch looking for space with a tendency to occupy the wide right area. Bellingham’s ability to find and exploit space is one of his many abilities that stand out considering his age and allows him to play with a maturity beyond his years. This playing trait is one that he shares with Firmino as both players are exemplary ‘space exploiters’. 

The diagram below highlights Bellingham’s space finding ability well.

The Dortmund player is looking for a teammate to play the ball to, however all passing lanes into the central lane are blocked. Bellingham realises this and moves to a position where he could be a potential passing option and he therefore helps his team play out from the back. This type of intelligence to find space in key areas is very rare in such a young player at a top level.

Defensive work

Roberto Firmino is a player who is lauded for his defensive and off the ball work. He is often regarded as the underrated player in the Mane, Firmino and Salah attacking trio and that comes as a result of him doing the ‘dirty work’ which allows his attacking peers to shine and take all the headlines. Firmino does most of his tackles in the attacking third and the fact that he stops around 30.8% of opposition dribbles via tackling is extremely impressive. Nonetheless, this is a department where Bellingham clearly outshines him even at such a tender age. Despite the fact that Bellingham does most of his tackles in the midfield third, he actually averages the same amount of tackles in the attacking third than Firmino does which shows how efficient he is defensively. Moreover, 39.4% of opposition dribbles tackled is significantly more than Firmino’s and shows that he would be a defensive upgrade on the Brazilian. One area where Firmino does outperform Bellingham however is in successful pressures, the Brazilian has a 31.9% successful pressure rate compared to Bellingham’s 29.9% and he averages 7.3 pressures per 90 in the attacking third compared to Bellingham’s 5.2. However, Bellingham predominantly plays as a midfielder and he averages more pressures per 90 in the midfield third than Firmino, therefore if he was converted to a forward player I’d have no doubt his numbers would be significantly better. 

Conclusion

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Jude Bellingham is a fantastic young player and he will certainly be the best midfielder in the world at some point in his career, but in spite of that I think it would be very premature to say he would be an upgrade on Roberto Firmino right now. Roberto Firmino is currently thirty years old however, and sooner or later Liverpool will have to replace him and I think Jude Bellingham would be the perfect candidate. Jude Bellingham has the potential to be even better than Firmino currently is and if he can perfect the Firmino role I have no doubt that he would be virtually unstoppable. His ability to drop deep and find space is unparalleled among his fellow young peers on the football stage and very few players in the world are better at dribbling and evading the opposition than him. Combine that with an ever improving progressive passing and finishing ability and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to call him unstoppable in that Firmino role in the future. 

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