By Jay Pearson – @JimmyCully
Against Burnley, Roberto Firmino scored his 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool.
It took 141 appearances for the striker to reach his half century, having first netted in his 13th Reds appearance – a memorable 4-1 win at Manchester City in November 2015.
Since arriving from Hoffenheim for £29million, our No.9 has found a home in between Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah at the heart of Liverpool’s attack, and has redefined the way a striker’s role is perceived. He has re-invented that central attacking role and is arguably the best around at what he does.
When he was first signed by Brendan Rodgers in 2015, it was obvious that he was bought for his versatility as a forward player. It was less clear what his best position was, however.
Discussions were had as to where he would play. He had the ability to play as a lone striker, but with the arrival of Danny Ings and Christian Benteke that same summer and Daniel Sturridge already at the club, it was perceived that Firmino would play more of a No. 10 role. He was a described as ‘a playmaker who can chip in with a few goals’.
Firmino started slowly at Liverpool, struggling to live up to the price tag. But after Jurgen Klopp arrived as manager his performances improved dramatically. He scored a respectable ten goals in 31 league appearances but perhaps his most important goal was the second at home to Manchester United in the Europa League.
Klopp’s decision to back Firmino as his first-choice central attacker was a significant move, based partly around his ability to press. Klopp had Sturridge, Benteke and Divock Origi at his disposal, but always chose the Brazilian ahead of the others.
It was clear the Brazilian had the intelligence and work rate to lead the press, intelligently ushering the ball sideways along the opposition’s defensive line before helping to box them in toward the touchlines.
Firmino continued to impress in 2016/17 when he became an integral part of the side, scoring eleven goals in 35 games playing across the front line with Philippe Coutinho and new kid on the block Sadio Mané.
2017/18 was even better for Firmino, a new look and a new squad number – he would don the famous No.9 shirt. Playing as a central forward, he scored 27 goals in all competitions, eleven of them in a memorable run to the Champions League Final in Kyiv.
Much was said about Liverpool’s new-look front three. Liverpool were in free-scoring mode and when one of the three forwards found the net, the other two usually did so as well. Social media users in their droves were discussing which forward line was the best in Europe.
Was it Real Madrid, with Ronaldo, Bale and Higuain?
Was it Barcelona with Messi, Neymar and Suarez?
Was it Manchester City with Augero, Sane and Jesus?
Or was it Liverpool’s dynamic front three of Salah, Mané and Firmino?
Firmino’s link up play and the ability to win the ball back and lead a counter-attack is something most strikers would not have ability to do. No-one would be able to do both so efficiently.
But what is overlooked by many outside of Anfield is his defensive ability. When his side is out of possession, Firmino is often found being that extra man in midfield, winning the ball back and then starting a counter-press with his back to goal.
When he doesn’t play, Liverpool can look less cohesive, less fluid and less dangerous in front of goal. Whether he’s providing the finishes, the assists or the pressing, it’s these attributes that make him one of Klopp’s first names on the team sheet every week.
The Brazilian is the embodiment of the way Liverpool play under the German. He may not have had the best goal-scoring return last season, but his contributions to the team were so vital to a team that amassed 97 points in the league and were crowned champions of Europe.
Salah and Mané may have been in the running for UEFA Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or, but it is Liverpool’s underrated No.9 that may feel a bit personally hard done by – considering his contribution – not to be included such conversations.
However, as all Liverpool fans will agree, we hope it stays that way. We want to keep singing “There’s something that the Kop want you to know” for the next 50 Premier League goals and hope our flamboyant No.9 is never tempted away from Anfield.