Junior Firpo’s move to Barcelona in the summer transfer window drew a lot of attention. The left-back was linked with Liverpool and Manchester United in the same window. But the fee involved in the deal was the most shocking element. 18 million euros seemed like a bargain for a player of the Spaniard’s abilities.
Firpo had a release clause of 50 million euros and reports said that Betis wanted potential suitors to trigger that. But Barca, out of nowhere, got him for a cheap fee that could rise up to 26 million euros. Considering how they were investing in the future, it seemed like a downright bargain.
Currently out of action due to a muscle injury, Firpo has already appeared twice in the La Liga this season. He scored the first Barca goal in the club’s 2-0 win over Getafe too. Playing at left-back, he has looked good despite the inconsistency in performances – inconsistency that has seen many leading bookmakers like betting24.se push Barca out to second-favourites for this season’s La Liga title (2.34) behind their eternal rivals Real Madrid (2.11).
He came at the club at the back of an Under-21s European Championship triumph with the Spanish Under-21s side earlier this summer. He played three games in the tournament and starred in the semi-final and final, playing at left-back in Luis de la Fuente’s 4-2-3-1 side that had players like Dani Olmo, Dani Ceballos, Fabian Ruiz and Mikel Oyarzabal.
At Betis last season under Quique Setien, Firpo played as a left wing-back more often than playing at left-back. He scored thrice, assisting four times in the La Liga, playing in a 3-4-1-2 shape that relied on high-pressing under Setien.
In the 2017-18 campaign, the Dominica-born star didn’t just play on the left of the midfield or at left-back. He also played at centre-back in three games in a 3-4-3 shape.
The man he is expected to be a long-term replacement for- Jordi Alba, would be looking over his shoulders. He too is coming back from a hamstring injury and is yet to return to the first-team since recovering.
But comparisons between the players would seem natural, even though Firpo didn’t play too much at left-back last season. Alba is a modern-day full-back who loves to attack. That should be enough of a justification to compare them.
Alba, who played at the traditional left-back spot last season, assisted more. He assisted eight times and scored twice as compared to Firpo’s tally of three goals and four assists.
But Firpo made more dribbles per game than Alba- 1.3 as compared to 0.4 (via Whoscored). That would indeed be obvious considering where Firpo played. But his stronger built allows him to be better aerially. The 23-year-old won 1.5 aerial duels per game, as compared to Alba’s tally of 0.5. All that, despite Alba playing as the defender.
A stronger build also allowed Firpo to win 1.6 tackles per game, as per Whoscored. Alba won 1.3 tackles per game. Firpo likes to get stuck into challenges, while can be problematic in that regard. Alba was dribbled past 0.8 times per game- while Firpo was dribbled past only 0.6 times- another sign at who is better defensively despite playing a little further forward.
One thing that does let Firpo down is his lesser technical ability. Alba played 1.3 key passes per game and played 65.6 passes per game (via Whoscored). These are much better than Firpo’s stats as he can find himself to be limited in this department.
A look at their goal-involvement metrics says a lot about their similarities though. Alba just has more involvement, in terms of numbers. But the shapes of the metrics are quite the same. The foundations are certainly there for Firpo to go onto become a lot like Alba.
And being a more physical player, he would add a lot more defensively than Alba. But as things stand, it is a case of rotating both of them effectively. But at the 18 million euros fee, it is a big bargain.