Roberto Firmino’s display at Crystal Palace a timely reminder of his value

It still feels like we don’t see half of the strings that Roberto Firmino pulls at the heart of Jürgen Klopp’s wonderfully efficient Liverpool machine.

All the better. Therein lies so much of his brilliance — and a healthy degree of the cheery mystique that seems to surround elements of his game.

Subtle movements in and out of possession open up channels, avenues of opportunity and angles alike for those around him. They also ask awkward questions to the midfielders and defenders whose lines he sneaks in between.

Against Crystal Palace, of course, Mohamed Salah — who arguably benefits from, and complements, the No. 9’s work to the greatest degree — was absent. It was perhaps one of the primary reasons behind the disjointed performance.

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It so often feels like they operate on their own little seesaw. If one goes to feet, the other is likely to attack the space — and vice-versa. Even if it isn’t displayed quite so regularly, that certainly doesn’t stop the rest of the team having such a relationship with him.

Firmino so often picks just the right moment to take himself away from goal in order to help his team towards it — something we saw in the build-up to Sadio Mané’s opener in south London. The Brazilian stationed himself between the lines, ready to pick up the second ball that Georginio Wijnaldum nodded down to him — and then he drove.

Mané and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were already racing ahead and Andrew Robertson was only a little behind them, advancing into the space that the Senegalese’s diagonal dart had opened up out wide.


All this meant that when the Scot delivered another superbly accurate delivery, even if Firmino’s late run couldn’t quite reach it, the No.10 was already optimally placed to take it down and finish.

It’s a pattern we’re all pretty familiar with, such is the frequency with which variations of it are rehearsed. It remains as excitingly flexible as it is tough to deal with, though.

Come the 85th minute, and the 28-year-old’s more classical No.9 attributes were on show when he hung back from the crowd before sweeping home the loose-ball when it eventually emerged from the mire. He’s still more than capable of sniffing out a goal, scrappy or otherwise.

Here, in a little over 35 minutes, was a nice little demonstration of how the 2019 Copa América-winner can do two jobs in one. A playmaker with a healthy dash of poacher. He even plays the piano, the maestro!

Napoli’s visit on Wednesday could be yet another occasion where he plays a prominent role. Especially given the Italians’ system often includes a narrow midfield-four.

José Callejón on the right and Lorenzo Insigne or Fabián Ruiz on the left will often tuck in from their wing to help overload the central areas. Hirving Lozano, often now stationed up-front alongside Dries Mertens, also has a tendency to drop in to help with the build-up.

Such possibilities make Firmino’s ability to intelligently drop in himself all the more valuable. Equality — or, even better, superiority — in the middle means there’s all the more chance of successfully utilising those potentially more spacious wide areas.

He may be a recently revealed pianist, but it still feels like Bobby’s best rhythm-setting continues to come on the pitch. Wednesday could well prove quite the showcase.

James Noble

Contributor. 20-year-old uni student studying sports journalism. Southern Red.

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