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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Roberto Firmino can get even better with familiar Bundesliga companion, but it isn’t Timo Werner

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In 2014, a year before Jurgen Klopp first graced the hallowed turf at Anfield, Liverpool fans grew excited at news of a potential double signing.

The Reds, who had been underwhelmed by the impact of summer arrivals Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, were said to be eyeing up Hoffenheim pair Roberto Firmino and Kevin Volland, both of whom were enjoying a fine season in the Bundesliga.

And while Liverpool ultimately prised Firmino away from Die Kraichgauer in 2015, Volland has remained in Germany ever since.

After another year with Hoffenheim, he joined Bayer Leverkusen in 2016.

Despite four solid years at the BayArena, Volland is not the Bundesliga forward coveted by Klopp.

That would, of course, be RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who seems hell-bent on destroying Bundesliga defenders until he secures a big-money move elsewhere.

However, while Werner would represent an exceptionally exciting addition to Klopp’s Reds, there is evidence that Volland would best compliment Firmino.

Kevin Volland of Leverkusen
Kevin Volland of Leverkusen

Hoffenheim partnership

Between 2012 and 2015, Firmino and Volland were Hoffenheim’s two key attackers. During that three-year spell, Firmino netted 28 times in the Bundesliga, with Volland adding a further 25.

Quick-thinking, intelligent attackers, they typified the club’s free-flowing style.

The appointment of Markus Gisdol as manager in April 2013 proved a turning point, with the coach allowing Firmino to flourish in a free role.

The Brazilian thrived, with 16 goals and 11 assists during the 2013/14 campaign.

Volland enjoyed a fruitful season, too, with 11 goals and four assists. In fact, together Firmino and Volland created 37 per cent of Hoffenheim’s open-play chances that season per WhoScored , a combined output that is difficult to overlook.

The duo forged an effective partnership, with Volland often operating on the right, allowing him to cut inside and influence the game on his favoured left foot.

Both players thrived as part of Gisdol’s counter-attacking model. It was only a matter of time before their partnership was shattered by the lure of one of European football’s heavyweights.

Volland’s continued progression

Firmino has, of course, proceeded to become a vital cog in Klopp’s Liverpool machine, playing a key role in between Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah as part of the Reds’ vaunted attacking trident.

However, while Volland cannot lay claim to having won the Champions League, he has continued to operate with impressive efficiency in Germany’s top tier.

After a modest maiden voyage with Bayer, which yielded six goals and two assists, Volland has steadily improved his output.

In 2017/18, he scored 14 goals and created another two before upping his creativity in 2018/19, adding nine assists to another 14-goal haul.

This season, the first full campaign under former Ajax and Borussia Dortmund boss Peter Bosz, Volland has continued to flourish, contributing nine goals and seven assists to help maintain Bayer’s push for Champions League qualification.

Naturally, superstar-in-the-making Kai Havertz has soaked up much of the acclaim, but Volland’s contributions should not be overlooked.

Part of the 27-year-old’s charm is his versatility. Comfortable on either flank or through the centre, Volland is adept at finding space by drifting wide.

With well-timed forays into wider areas, he is effective at stretching the opposition defence, and can create goalscoring opportunities if he picks up possession on the flank.

Given Firmino’s innate ability to create space for wingers, this is a scenario in which Volland, like Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, could profit.

However, Volland’s most telling contributions come from a central base. Having established himself as Bayer’s first-choice striker, he averages 3.1 shots on target per game, 1.3 of which are on target per WhoScored . That latter statistic is enough to rank Volland sixth in the Bundesliga, level with Serge Gnabry and Marco Reus.

His two-footed nature is another asset; four of his nine goals have come from his right foot, three from his left with two headed efforts.

Whereas Gisdol harnessed the forward’s counter-attacking prowess, Bosz has sought to utilise Volland’s pressing abilities.

Under the Dutchman, Bayer have become enthusiastic proponents of the high press, which has naturally highlighted Volland’s work-rate.

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While the 10-time Germany international has only won possession 12 times in the final third, he has won the ball 44 times in midfield, often helping Bayer regain the initiative by launching an attack.

As a versatile, hard-working forward with a proven track record of gelling wonderfully with Firmino, Volland ticks a lot of boxes for Liverpool.

The Reds are likely to pursue Werner this summer and, given the 24-year-old’s stunning output this season, nobody will begrudge that particular pursuit.

Should that fail, however, with the RB Leipzig star’s £52.7million release clause a possible stumbling block, Volland represents a formidable, multi-faceted alternative, and one who could combine with Firmino in devastating fashion.

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