Despite early reports that Mohamed Salah would take the number nine shirt at Liverpool, the expectation now is that Roberto Firmino has instead chosen to take on the number nine, freeing up the 11 for Salah. The move will allow Salah to stay with the number he wore at Roma.
It’s not a move done entirely for Salah’s sake, as though the Egyptian international’s first choice was always likely to be 11, the player was reportedly happy to wear the nine. Instead, it’s at least as much about Firmino’s decision to embrace his role as Jürgen Klopp’s first choice striker.
Firmino arrived at the club having mostly played in supporting attacking positions—on the wing or as a second striker off a more traditional centre forward—but last season under Klopp used showed his value for setting the press as the fulcrum point in a false nine, 4-3-3 system.
The arrival of Salah, a goalscoring winger, seemed designed to allow Klopp to continue with a system that used Firmino as its first choice striker. It’s also worth noting Daniel Sturridge’s late season renaissance was based on the striker showing an increased willingness to press and drop deep.
All signs, then, point to a 4-3-3 that deploys a false nine—or a striker whose job is to set the press and regularly drop deep to link play at least as much as it is to score goals. It’s the role Firmino is best suited for, and he will now take on the traditional striker’s number nine to go with it.
Salah, meanwhile, gets his favoured 11, and everybody wins. At least aside from the fans still clamouring for the club to buy a big money striker this summer, something Firmino’s embrace of the nine seems to make even less likely today than it already appeared given Klopp’s transfer wish list.