Is it Firmino's turn to be Liverpool MVP in 2019/20?
Background Image: Ruaraidh Gillies, CC BY-SA 2.0
When Jurgen Klopp opted against signing a new striker in the summer, he received groans from Liverpool fans. Of course, demanding an added layer to their near perfection, perhaps a top-quality frontman would give the German leverage over Manchester City in the title race.
Instead, Klopp's trusting Roberto Firmino as his regular centre-forward. Due to the Brazilian starting to suffer injuries probably resulting from his insane work-rate, cult hero Divock Origi is guaranteed more playing time.
There’s little doubt how adorned the ever-smiling Firmino is at Anfield, but after Virgil van Dijk climbed over him in the proverbial “top player” ladder to compete against Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, he was left needing to pick up his game and show consistency. Boy, has he done so with decisive performances.
After tasting international success in a gruelling Copa America win with Brazil, Firmino armoured up to make himself available to Klopp for the season's start despite returning late from holiday. Well, that's not holding him back. The 27-year-old's played a crucial part in Liverpool's 100% Premier League record so far this campaign. His contribution exceeds that of other Reds attackers.
Firmino's recorded two goals, three assists. While not small numbers at this stage, Salah and Mane have stolen the headline owing to impactful strikes brimming with finesse. Bobby's impact goes beyond stats. He's oozing confidence. His effectiveness stands out in Liverpool's near-flawless attack.
It’s the small things such as the flicks, the constant recoveries, intricate pressing to launch swift-breaks along with Firmino's direct contribution to both goals and assists. When Klopp's men require inspiration, he comes through to provide it.
Be it sealing affirmative wins over Southampton and Burnley with decisive goals or helping break a rigid defence against Newcastle United, Firmino's doing it all. He's a rare breed in a league known for possessing dynamic strikers. It’s his uniqueness which makes him stand apart.
Firmino isn’t merely an opportunistic predator like Tammy Abraham, neither a cunning finisher like Sergio Aguero nor a pacy penetrator like Marcus Rashford. The Liverpool striker possesses a bit of everything. After beginning his career as a more industrious attacking-midfielder, he’s retained his energetic roots in a team filled with luxurious cogs making things easier.
Firmino doesn’t take the easy way to success. He’s the perfect work-horse for Klopp’s “gegenpressing”, heavy-metal style. He may not be breaking records in terms of distance covered or top-speed but he knows when and where to press to orchestrate attacks.
A master reader of how his opponents move out the back, Firmino is adept at pressurizing defenders into making mistakes and intercepting stray passes. Thanks to Salah and Mane’s inverted roles, he’s allowed breathing room to drop deep, helping team-mates gain that added creative edge with his defence-splitting through balls.
Indeed, Firmino's stylish passes or “no-look finishes” aren’t just for the highlight reel. On most occasions, his ambitious attempt creates a scoring opportunity. The fact he’s created more direct chances than Mane and Salah combined validates his playmaking skills.
Firmino's knack for dropping deep doesn’t take away his hunger for goals. He's an instinctive finisher with the capability to blast into the net from open spaces. The Maceio-born's comfortability on either foot alerts defenders that giving him an inch of space can result in conceding. His selflessness perhaps holds back his true scoring potential. That should evolve as the season wears on.
For Firmino, the biggest obstacle is to avoid injury. Displaying inspired work-rate costs him physically. Unless he achieves regular full fitness, he’ll never be regarded as Liverpool's top player.
Should Firmino play as many minutes as Salah and Mane, he'll soon outperform them to become Klopp's most prized attacker.