SO I wrote something on Roberto Firmino back in August, writes CRAIG RIMMER. To summarise, it was more or less an attempt to brand our new Brazilian idol-in-waiting as something of an exciting, if unknown, quantity — an expensive, statement signing but one with the pre-requisite style, ability and goals that might just prove capable of helping us to dispel the frustrations of the previous 12 months or so.
Fast forward to November, and a change of manager later, and the truth is, pre-Manchester City, we’d seen little to decide my mind either way. In fact, there was a temptation here just to copy and paste my previous effort — you know, check if anyone actually read it…
It’s been a strange, inconsistent start to a Liverpool career but Saturday lit the blue-touch paper for the £29million Brazilian bought from Hoffenheim.
Having returned late following an extended summer holiday, and his progress then halted by a back injury just as he was beginning to approach a semblance of full-match fitness, Firmino looked to be trying to kick-start a Liverpool career in the broader context of a team still finding its feet under a new manager.
Then came the performance in Manchester, from both the team and the individual. A goal, a sublime assist for compatriot Philippe Coutinho, and a string of other chances that should have led to him leaving The Etihad with the match ball has suddenly rocketed the reputation of an Anfield career that hadn’t really got off the ground. Perhaps it’s still too early to draw too many conclusions. But all of a sudden it’s exciting.
Unremarkable cameos against Stoke and Bournemouth were followed by an encouraging first start in the draw away to Arsenal. His influence in defeats to West Ham at home and United away were remarkable only for its absence — bar an early shot off the post against the Hammers.
Played so deep by Brendan Rodgers in the loss at Old Trafford that he at times resembled at makeshift wing-back, Firmino was, as with many before him, struggling to comprehend the frenetic cut-and-thrust of his new surroundings, alongside a team and manager who were by that point fighting just to tread water.
Then came the injury in the cup tie against Carlisle and a month on the sidelines. His form since returning to fitness in the draw against Southampton was far more encouraging –with City the icing on the cake. Deployed in a more familiar central role, having been largely confined to the wings under Rodgers, Firmino, more than most, has benefited from a change in the dugout and a switch to the centre. His ability to press from the front has particularly caught the eye, culminating in the ball-juggling, defender-bothering player we witnessed against everyone’s tip for the title at the weekend.
This is clearly a player blessed with ability, and in an area of the pitch where Liverpool has been in dire need of some inspiration. He also now has a manager in Jürgen Klopp that recognises that, one that will have been more than aware of the 24-year-old’s 47 goals in 151 games in Germany.
After he shone brightly in the shadow of the Blue Moon at City, Klopp said: “Before the game, I told him he’s a striker who can sometimes be a midfielder — not the midfielder who is sometimes a striker.”
The City performance from Firmino was a much-needed one. I’m generally no great believer in the idea that new players should be afforded weeks and months to adapt to a new team. Most of those players who have it, had it from day one.
No doubt, there was still plenty of time for Firmino to come good, but it was approaching a point where doubts began to nag in the corner of minds — we’ve seen plenty of other talent tread the same path over the years without ever coming to fulfil their true potential in a red shirt.
Liverpool sorely need Bobby Firmino to step up now and become one of the key men in this team. We need a goalscoring assist-maker to build something around, someone to take a bit of the burden away from Phil Coutinho, who is now struggling with injury, and someone to get Benteke and a returning Daniel Sturridge firing again.
Since his arrival, Klopp has focused mainly on building a structure both with and without the ball. Honing a style of play based around intensity and pressing, and attempting to plug a very leaky defence. But to achieve any kind of success in the long-term, any team needs its front three or four to step up, to be its best players week in and week out. Liverpool needs Coutinho, Sturridge and Firmino to be fit and firing.
As the often quoted Shankly maxim goes: “A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
If that saying holds true, then Klopp’s new era Liverpool need a regular tune out of the Brazilian number 11. To keep up with the musical analogy, Firmino had only sporadically tickled the ivories, teased us with an occasionally coherent chord or two. There was a grand composition to capture the imagination at the weekend, but now we need him to stick to Beethoven or Mozart rather than reverting to Chopsticks.
Firmino can have a big part to play Jurgen’s big red orchestra. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that Klopp can get the best out of a player he recently described as the best in the German top-flight during a spell in 2013/14.
So play that tune, Roberto. We’re all ears.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo