The FA Cup game between Liverpool and Cardiff City, which ended with a score of 3-1 for Liverpool, is not one that most people would recall in great detail from last season, but it was one in which Jürgen Klopp performed an interesting experiment.
Roberto Firmino, who was frequently injured last season and had a limited role even when fit, was deployed to a position that wasn’t completely alien to him.
For his former club, Hoffenheim, Firmino was always a number 10, so it would not have been difficult for the intelligent 30-year-old to adapt when Klopp asked him to drop a bit deeper once more and play the left-sided number eight position in midfield.
It makes sense to have another creative player in the lineup anyway while playing a weaker opponent, which is why the experiment was done against Cardiff rather than, say, Manchester City.
With Luis Dáz looking lively in front of him and Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones all impressive on that day, Firmino was able to float around and spray passes, moving the ball into dangerous situations.
Liverpool breezed to a victory at Anfield and advanced into the fifth round of the competition they later went on to win. Cardiff did not particularly test him defensively and Liverpool did not lose possession for too long each time during the game as well.
However, there are reasons to believe that Firmino could cope in slightly more strenuous circumstances — against a lower-placed Premier League side, for instance. He is, after all, arguably the most intelligent presser the Reds have.
Additionally, having Firmino in midfield is not all that different from changing to a 4-2-3-1 formation and using the Brazilian as the number 10 – something that many people would want Liverpool to try.
The slight difference, though, is that you can have that benefit (of having Firmno deeper, as well as more creativity and not using another midfielder in the role if they need a rest or are injured) without actually changing the formation and risk off-balancing the squad.
It’s not something Liverpool would do most week. Only 11 minutes into the game against Cardiff did Klopp move Firmino further forward once more, replacing Takumi Minamino for James Milner in the process and switching things around. However, he had also taken on a deeper role in Premier League games with Tottenham and Leicester.
Firmino might play a different role next season, perhaps more regularly than he did this season, even though he might not do it frequently. Should he stay fit for longer with four attackers ahead of him in the pecking order, it might just make sense.
Liverpool probably already has a stop-gap midfielder on their books for when they really need one, even though they won’t be signing one this summer.