FOR the most part, this felt like a throwback. A sublime South American acting as the catalyst for his side’s offensive domination. Bending the ball to his will. Straining every sinew in his body to track back and turn his team around. Always there, pressing. Always there, looking to force things in the final third. Always there trying to make the difference. Always there being the difference.
And then, at the other end, his efforts were being undone by defensive errors that occur so often, they play on loop like a Vine video. Again. Again. Again.
When Liverpool bought Roberto Firmino in the summer, they knew he could be a luminary. A player others look at in the dressing room and think, “he’s going to help us win this.” An example of superior skill that is matched by a stunning work ethic.
They thought the same about a Uruguayan, who is now part of the world football’s most illuminating attacking trident and has established himself as one of the game’s foremost players.
Firmino delivered a Luis Suarez-lite performance against Arsenal at Anfield on Wednesday night.
Remember El Pistolero’s early days on Merseyside? Where there were moments you watched him and felt like he could paint the game whatever colour he wanted.
Sure, there was some frustration and inconsistency, but there was an overriding sense that when it all clicked, there would be magic.
Firmino’s goals have come against Manchester City and Arsenal, with assists recorded against Chelsea, Leicester and at the Etihad, too.
This is not to suggest the Brazilian will touch the sky like Suarez did, but he does give the team someone else to look to, to believe in, to be inspired by.
The man who could nutmeg a mermaid was ably assisted by Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling during his spell at Liverpool.
In fact, he pinpointed the purchases of the playmaker and the striker as the explanation behind his unshackling as well as that of the team’s.
Phil and Dan remain on L4, with the former still turning in decisive performances and the latter sidelined so much it can feel like a trick of the mind that he is on the books.
Gerrard departed for LA, but before he did, pleaded for star quality to be added to the squad so potential could be transformed into end product and the levels of all could be elevated.
Part of the multiple reasons Sterling traded Merseyside for Manchester was to play with those kind of footballers — the Augeros, the Silvas — the ones who make you better. The difference makers.
Against Arsenal, Liverpool were lifted by Firmino’s brilliance.
At the end of the game, Jordan Henderson rubbed the 24-year-old’s shoulders as if to say he carried them with his divine touch and technique. During the encounter, the captain turned and looked at him with a face that spelt out “you’re the fucking man” before a wild celebration.
Like Suarez in the 5-1 slaughtering of Arsenal nearly two years ago, it was a goal that Firmino didn’t score that could’ve taken off Anfield’s roof, which had a massive leak in the Main Stand last night.
With his back to the posts, the tattooed export from Maceio applied expert control, before swivelling and releasing a special towards the top left that struck the bar.
Are you not still watching his second? Bowing down to his second?
Liverpool need to ensure that the Firminos and Coutinhos get more quality around them. Buy good players who compliment them. Unshackle them.
That the industry of the Hendos and Milners is aided by more ruthless artistry. Buy good players who make them all feel taller. Gigantic like the manager.
Liverpool need to ensure that their errors at the back stop binning the amount of work that goes on in front of it.
Jurgen Klopp is surely sick of watching those set plays pull his side’s pants down over and over.
He doesn’t seem fed up of Simon Mignolet’s mistakes yet and the Belgian is closing in on a new long-term deal. There is no doubt that the German will bolster his backline in the summer as he believes “the first thing, always, is you need to have a stable defence”.
He is more than happy with his goalkeeper at the moment though, but he is assessing a small sample size of games while the masses have seen all the individual errors.
All of them.
Klopp will nip and tuck this Liverpool team to a point where the authoritative first 20 minutes against Arsenal becomes the norm without the numbskullery at the back.
Where late goals are winners. Where the refusal to give in is worn so much, it becomes uniform — like pulling on the kit.
He’ll be backed in the market and hopefully the mistakes of windows past do not resurface.
Liverpool have shown what they are capable of under the German, they just need the adjustments to make sure it happens more consistently.
That second goal, though. Give us more, Firmino. Much more.