Roberto Firmino is Liverpool’s ultimate utility player, and whichever position he plays in there are shades of Thomas Muller, the Raumdeuter.
Sometimes brilliance is subtle. At other times it hits you in the face like a Jimmy Case thunderbolt.
At various points in his Liverpool career Firmino has ticked both these boxes.
From the moments of magic which lead to his joyous, bookable celebrations, to his understated movement off the ball in attack.
Firmino is all kinds of brilliance.
His versatility means that his exact position and role is hard to pin down, but the answer may lie in the Bundesliga — a league he once graced and one where he learned much of his craft.
“We expect a striker to have the best athletics, technique and creativity,” said Muller’s current manager at Bayern Munich, Carlo Ancelotti.
“These are not the strengths of him, but he is tactically excellent, can play any position.
“What he can do from a wide position is use his intelligence to find the right positions on the pitch at the right time. That creates mismatches and helps the team.”
These words from the three-time European Cup winning manager begin to explain a role which has entered football parlance in recent years.
A recent piece on the These Football Times website suggested that Muller is the first and last Raumdeuter.
Indeed, the German schemer invented the term for players such as himself who move intelligently into space, flummoxing opposition defenders as they take a quantum leap into attacking areas, unbeknown to their marker.
But just because Muller coined the term, it doesn’t mean that he’ll be the only player to ever act in such a way or that he’s the first to do so.
Liverpool’s very own Dirk Kuyt, for example, was a Raumdeuter before the term existed.
The Dutchman’s technical ability was sometimes criticised — despite the fact he had a really good shot on him — but he was regularly praised for his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
Under Rafa Benitez Kuyt played a similar role to that of Muller under Guardiola and Heynckes at Bayern.
Kuyt made up for a supposed lack of technical skill with a game intelligence which was on a different level to those around him.
Benitez recognised this and between them they created a prime example of this role.
From Brazil via the Bundesliga
Now another player is continuing the Raumdeuter tradition at Liverpool, and his schooling in the Bundesliga certainly contributed to his ability to play the role.
Firmino is a combination of Brazilian flair and German mentality.
His off the ball work is second to none, and despite the amount of effort he puts into his defensive work he’s still switched on enough to Liverpool’s cleverest player in attack.
In the absence of Sadio Mane he’s recently taken up a role on the right of the front three. It’s one in which he should have been used more often during the Senegalese winger’s trip to the African Cup of Nations earlier in the year.
In the 3-4-3 Firmino played behind the striker, and in the 4-3-3 he’s taken up a position on the right.
But he brings similar strengths to the team regardless of the position he slots into, and these bear the hallmarks of a Raumdeuter.
Translating to English
In English the position resembles an inside forward, which was a name originally given to the players between the centre forward and wingers in a 2-3-5 formation.
As formations evolved these players eventually started to drop deeper to receive the ball, but could still be found infiltrating attacking areas.
The ability to operate in-between the opposition midfield and defence, but also become a poacher when the need arises is what makes the Raumdeuter role unique and difficult to translate directly as one word.
A player in this role can have a starting position anywhere in the six attacking berths, but they will always perform a similar job due to the parts of the game they excel in.
Though he was playing on the right against West Brom, all three of Firmino’s shots came from the left side.
Granted, one of these was from a set piece, but when he was put through on goal by Philippe Coutinho he’d drifted to an area of the pitch were the opposition defence wouldn’t have expected him to be.
Even his goal from the set play was a prime example of his ability to anticipate, react, and execute. These are all Raumdeuter traits.
In the game against Tony Pulis’s side he had more touches in the area than any other player on the pitch, had the second most shots, and made the most key passes with five.
All but one of his key passes were made outside the box, and the image above from Squawka shows his touches on the ball during the game.
The majority of his involvement was in the middle of the park or his designated position on the right, but he was moving all over the pitch to find space.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 16, 2017
Like Muller, Firmino has played a whole host of attacking positions throughout his career, but both players offer similar things from wherever they play.
If anything the Brazilian could almost be too technically gifted to be defined in the same way as Muller, but this quality can never be a negative.
Given its origin, Raumdeuter may well be a word which is only ever used to describe Muller, but this will be down to its difficult terminology rather than the idea that no other player will ever play in this manner, or has in the past.
In Firmino Liverpool have their own version of this type of player, and regardless of any increasingly overcomplicated football nomenclature, the Brazilian’s intelligence is a vital asset to this side in their search for trophies and honours.