Mohammed Salah is the talk of the town right now. Arguably the player of the season so far alongside Harry Kane and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. A former outcast at Stamford Bridge in his Chelsea hay days, deemed not good enough by Jose Mourinho, the Egyptian was farmed out to Italy. A few years on, Mourinho might be thinking how on earth did Salah become this good, 25 Premier League goals this season so far with 10 games is some feat.
Salah has had a magnificent season, and must go down as one of the greatest signings in the Premier League in recent years. Even if he is ultimately unable to overhaul Tottenham’s Harry Kane for the BPL top scorer gong, he is a shoe-in candidate to claim the Premier League player of the season – though City’s majestic playmaker Kevin De Bruyne will have a lot to say about that.
Sure, Salah’s been excellent for Liverpool this season, but there’s one man who’s been just as good – even if he isn’t scoring as much – that man is the Brazilian samba star Roberto Firmino.
Firmino has not been able to match Salah for goals this season, but the Brazilian has been equally important as Mo Salah for Jurgen Klopp throughout the current campaign. Indeed, the Brazilian is perhaps the only Liverpool player who can realistically challenge Mo Salah for the Liverpool player of the season gong, particularly if he carries on with this sort of form. The striker has scored 13 league goals this season, seven in the Europe’s most prestigious the Champions League, as well as assisting a further three goals and six in the Premier League – no other striker has more than the Brazilian.
Not only are his personal stats impressive – his contributions to both the conversion and creation of chances – but its his ability and willingness to press from the front is essential to the way Liverpool play their football. Hunting down lost causes, hustling and harrying defenders when he’s lost possession is one of the reasons why Jurgen Klopp has handed the Brazilian so much praise in recent months.
“Mo Salah: world class, but not every day,” Jurgen Klopp stated in a Newspaper interview. “Sadio Mane: world class, but not every day. Roberto Firmino: world class, pretty much every day.”
You can tell by that comment on the Brazilian that Klopp rates Firmino even more than Mo Salah despite the Egyptian’s formidable form in front of goal. And rightly so, to be frank, Salah won’t be scoring as much if it weren’t for Firmino, his false-9 role as Liverpool’s main frontman gives him a number of responsibilities which involves adding certain aspects to his game – not only his creative and scoring abilities – most importantly, the ability to create space, to roam about the pitch with freedom and to press high as soon as Liverpool lose possession.
On the evidence of the last couple of seasons, Firmino has adhered to those responsibilities with consummate ease. No wonder Daniel Sturridge has been on the periphery in the Liverpool squad, being farmed out to relegation threatened West Brom in January. That is down to the form and brilliance of Firmino. The Brazilian is also capable of the unthinkable and outrageous at times. The 5-0 drubbing of FC Porto in the first leg of their Champions League tie, he was at the centre of everything good about Liverpool on the night, scoring his 21st goal of the season and making another with a sumptuous back-heel pass. An even more astonishing flick to set up Mo Salah again in the game against Southampton. What about his no-look goal against West Ham at Anfield? Is there anything this guy cannot do?
Klopp even further praised Firmino after Liverpool’s victory over Huddersfield in January, stating: “Roberto delivers, delivers and delivers. He doesn’t score all the time, he is not always brilliant, but if he is not brilliant then he works like a horse. It’s very important you have this kind of stability there.”
This is the effect the Brazillian has on his people. He is absolutely adored by the Liverpool faithful. His celebrations are surely a sight to behold, he can no longer be placed in the ‘under-rated’ or ‘unsung hero’ brackets. Though, Liverpool fans have known about Firmino’s ability for some time – but only within the last two seasons has his talent really become mainstream.
The improvement and evolution of his game has been clearly evident after a slow start to life in England following his move from German outfit Hoffenheim in 2015. Signed by Brendan Rodgers who didn’t even know how best to deploy the player, marooning him on the right wing as Liverpool were defeated 3-1 by Manchester United at Old Trafford in an anonymous display. Soon after though, Rodgers was replaced by Jurgen Klopp with the German already having an idea of Firmino’s ability after facing him on numerous occasions during his days of coaching Dortmund. For Firmino, this was a manna from heaven – the perfect relationship, the kind to truly allow his ability and potential to manifest. Soon after Klopp’s appointment, the German fully utilised him centrally, though the goals did not flow, Firmino quickly won over the fans with his workhorse like mentality.
Also, it is not until this current campaign that Firmino has added goals and assists to his – less tangible – but similarly valuable – qualities of harassing defenders and working relentlessly for the team. Even so this season, Firmino’s brilliance has been overshadowed by Salah’s sensational form and also the uncertainty surrounding his now departed fellow countryman Philippe Coutinho. Firmino’s improved output since the start of the season has been stark, hitting the 20-goal mark mid February. More broadly, only Cristiano Ronaldo has notched more Champions League goals than the Brazilian this term (7), while the Brazilian’s combined output of 34 goals and assists is one of the highest amongst the Barclays Premier League based players. Quite outstanding.
Firmino has gradually won over the Kop by his charming attacking sprite and glow-in-the-dark teeth. No doubt it, Firmino had the ‘va va voom’ about his game, or the ‘joie de vivre’, truly reflected and translated by a tattoo on his left arm stating “love life”.
However, the absence of goals in his first few seasons led to much clamour erupting around the issue of Klopp signing an out-an-out striker to further Liverpool’s ambitions for the season. Klopp dismissed such talk, keeping faith with the Brazillian and Firmino has duly repaid the faith shown in him. Back in July, Klopp stated that Firmino is “the best player without scoring with how well he reads the game for the benefit of others. Outstanding!” Of the Premier League’s forwards, Firmino has made the most sprints and made the second most number of tackles reflecting his value to Klopp’s gengenpressing style. Don’t be surprised to see him start at the tip of Brazil’s attack this summer at the World Cup in Russia, many will feel he has deserved his starting spot for arguably the World’s most affluent footballing nation. A massive pressure on his shoulders.
Nevertheless, Roberto Firmino is not quite at the level of former star strikers who have graced the colours of Anfield such as Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Michael Owen etc. but having made the transition from cult hero to pop idol, the leap to superstardom is certainly not far away for the Brazillian. As the season draws to a close, Klopp will need every inch of energy left in Firmino in order to finish the season on a high. Mo Salah isn’t the only one making his mark at Anfield this season.
Roberto Firmino…Remember the name.