Fantasy Premier League: Can Firmino compete with Salah, Kane?

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This week Roberto Firmino became the highest-scoring Brazilian in Premier League history with 44 goals and was presented the 2018 Samba Gold award, given to the best Brazilian player in the European leagues. Despite these recent accolades, it's still far too easy for Roberto Firmino to get lost in the shuffle in fantasy soccer.

In our game, he is listed in the same tier as (and has fewer points than) superstars like Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. Last weekend's hat trick from Firmino, however, was a needed reminder of just how good he is, has been, and will continue to be.

Firmino's performance against Arsenal not only helped title-challenging Liverpool secure a massive win, but it also resulted in a whopping 45.9 points in the ESPN game -- the highest single-game total this season! While Firmino does indeed drift behind the other big names at his tier in terms of total points, it's worth noting that this is a weekly game and, as he's just proved, Firmino can be the best player in any given week.

The most obvious reason as to why he's behind the superstars at his position is that he simply hasn't kept up in goal scoring. Even after scoring four goals in the past two matches, the Liverpool man is somehow still underperforming in expected goals. In fact, no player in the league with more goals than Firmino has been more unlucky in this statistic thus far.

What draws this into even starker relief is that over his career, Firmino has historically exceeded his expected goals rate, beating his expected total in four of the previous five seasons. It's not a slim margin either as, over that period, he's scored about two goals more than expected on average, so there should be plenty more goals yet to come from the 27-year-old.

Assists have also been strangely difficult to come by for Liverpool's No. 9 this season. Firmino has never supplied fewer assists than the three he's carried into the New Year. For perspective, over the past five seasons he's averaged five by this point. Also, as mentioned in my last article (link), per 90 minutes, Firmino is creating more chances than he has over the past three years, while simultaneously posting his lowest amount of assists. Throw in the fact that his actual assists total lags behind his expected assists and it becomes not an opinion, but fact, that Firmino has been incredibly unlucky creatively.

It's not just the goal and assist tallies that have been disappointing though ... this season Firmino is posting three-year lows in shots, accurate crosses, and fouls drawn per 90 minutes. While this could be viewed as him more underperforming than being unlucky, these things tend to balance over the duration of a 38-match season.

Rather than just waiting for that to happen though, Jurgen Klopp responded by experimenting with Firmino's positioning, moving him back in the formation to more of an attacking midfield role. The Brazilian has played there just eight times in the Premier League, yet exactly half of his goals have come from that position this season. Also, when pushed back in the formation, his rate of passing goes up significantly with his five highest totals in completed passes all coming via this new role. This has given him a significant advantage among players at his tier as he boasts a hefty 200-plus more passes than everyone else. This adjustment has definitely been evident in his fantasy performances as he's averaging 13.3 points per game when playing as an attacking midfielder, which is more than three points better than when playing anywhere else. That average of 13.3 points, by the way, would make Firmino a top-10 player in the ESPN game.

Even with that improvement, however, Firmino is still a distant second to teammate Mohamed Salah who sits second overall in total points (349.6) and points per game (16.65). Fortunately for Firmino, as previously mentioned, this is a weekly game and the Brazilian has finished with more points than his Egyptian counterpart no less than nine times this season. It's actually becoming a bit of a trend now as well considering, after the Manchester City match, it's happened six times in the past nine matches. While it's true that Salah has been better in the high-scoring categories (goals, shots on and off target, assists, and chances created), Firmino has an equal or higher total in all 10 of our other outfield statistics. While those ancillary points are probably not enough to catch Salah on the season they do prove that Firmino can be viewed as a valuable fantasy asset going forward.

Those odds are certainly not dampened by Liverpool's fixture list in the second half, either. With Arsenal and Manchester City already out of the way, and only one away fixture against a top-six club (Manchester United) remaining, Firmino has one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. Things look even better in the short-term as, over the next 10 matches, the Reds will face just three defenses ranked better than 10th in the league. These matches, in addition to all of the reversion to the mean that is due him, should make for a very fun, if not impressive, run-in for Firmino. Will he catch the superstars in his position on the overall leaderboard? Maybe not. But he's already started besting them on a week-to-week basis, and it doesn't look like he'll stop any time soon.