Roberto Firmino is the key to Liverpool's success
There was a time Roberto Firmino’s career wasn't riding high on the waves of success. Not so long ago, the Liverpool forward navigated through relentlessly choppy waters.
Following his £29 million move from Hoffenheim in 2015, the Brazilian's first seven Liverpool games produced no goals or assists. Critics wondered whether he could cut it in the English top flight. The high fade, diamond-stud earrings, neck tattoo and cold stare broken by the flashing smile were all well and good, but substance comes before style. He cracked his duck in November against Manchester City, powering the Reds to a 4-1 victory at the Etihad with a goal and two assists. 'Bobby' cranked it up in the New Year, however, finishing the campaign with 11 each in goals and assists.
Today, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, pundits and supporters alike, arguing Firmino hasn’t achieved elite Premier League status. Last season’s 27 goals registered a career-best. The 26-year-old's evolution from false to complete nine represents one of Jurgen Klopp’s biggest Anfield achievements.
Firmino’s capacity for dropping deep and creating chances for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah is pivotal. Ample aerial ability, adept dribbling skills and turn of pace make him a standout performer. Since nurturing his clinical edge in front of goal, the versatile forward anchors what may be Europe's most ferocious attack. Social media couldn't imagine what Tite was thinking when the Brazilian manager repeatedly wrote a struggling Gabriel Jesus into his starting XI at the World Cup in Russia.
The menacing trio's nonstop running in Klopp's Gengen press earns widespread admiration. A further ten goals this campaign already join last season’s haul of 91 across all competitions. Salah's the star, Mane the flash, but it’s the Brazilian who leads the line, sets the tone, keeps the well-oiled machine humming.
While rivals search for that coveted complete forward, Klopp focusses on assembling a balanced squad around his, a group with the necessary depth to fight and win on four fronts. Acquiring Swiss livewire Xherdan Shaqiri was shrewd business but Daniel Sturridge’s return from the wilderness is a welcome surprise. The door appeared shut, bolted and barred against the England international’s Kop career until the oft-injured striker's impressive pre-season forced him back into Klopp’s plans. He's already on four goals this season, after managing just three in 2017/18. Sturridge once paired effectively with Firmino. Keep an eye out for a revival in cup competitions.
Replete with attacking options, Liverpool are a more daunting foe for opponents. How does that affect Firmino? The Brazilian’s place in the side is a dead cert. Barring a disastrous run of form or catastrophic injury, that's for the long term. By providing more options in the forward areas, Klopp capturing his first silverware becomes more plausible as the weeks pass. Greater squad rotation is the difference. The manager reduces the risk his top players, including Firmino, might suffer burnout.
Liverpool’s hopes rest on their play-making centre-forward as much as they do on Mo Salah's prolific scoring rate, if not more. Klopp must do all he can to keep 'Bobby' firing on all cylinders.