SO formidable are Liverpool’s front three in how they attack together with the vibrancy and verve shown this season that it could be regarded as unfair to highlight the importance of an individual, rather than eulogising over the trio as a collective.
At the weekend we watched in awe as Watford quickly wilted like many have before them under the pressure of an uncontainable attacking troupe that continues to illuminate this league.
The combination of Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and his compatriot Roberto Firmino seem dead set on dispelling the accusation levelled at Jürgen Klopp’s side last season that it is devoid of a genuine world class talent.
While the team’s transformation should not be attributed to any one individual on the pitch – rather the man on the touchline – Firmino continues to flourish as the fulcrum of the most exciting attacking partnership in the Premier League right now.
One year ago, Klopp took the decision to deploy the Brazilian as the focal point of his attack away to champions Chelsea, ostensibly as a ‘striker’ for the very first time.
Firmino had yet to score for Liverpool, having arrived from Hoffenheim as a Brazilian international with a reputation of goal getting.
His progression to this point has been an interesting one. At times under Brendan Rodgers he looked lost, often shipped out wide and only rarely offering glimpses of what you should expect of a £29million player during a stop-start first few months in the Premier League.
Uncertainty surrounded him as to what exactly he offered, where he was best placed or whether he was suited to the pace and rigour of English football at all.
With the turn of the year came numbers but still question marks over his consistency. Firmino would flit in and out of games, decorating with a goal without influencing for a full 90 – not unlike Luis Garcia a decade ago.
Fast-forward fifteen months into his career on Merseyside, the only question now asked of Roberto Firmino is how high his ceiling might be as it continually elevates with each dazzling display.
This season his performances are the reason Daniel Sturridge has been demoted to the bench and despite scoring 16 goals and registering nine assists this calendar year, his influence and increased importance within this Liverpool side is immeasurable.
The allure of the signing was primarily his ability to score and create but we’ve been seduced by how much else he offers that goalscoring stats won’t illustrate.
He epitomises what is great about the new Liverpool he belongs to – regimented industry, in game intelligence in abundance and a ruthlessness in front of goal that is unrivalled in this division.
It’s often said that Firmino is not a nine, nor a 10 and while he is as unorthodox a forward as you’re likely to see, it could be argued that he is the league’s most complete player in his position.
An ongoing trend this season has seen opposition managers label Liverpool as their toughest opponent to date.
Whether this is genuine or said to deflect from the performance of their own team can be debated, but I’m unsure our opponents realise just how good this group of players are until it’s too late.
Almost shellshocked, Alan Pardew lauded Firmino’s performance against Palace as if he expected him to be busy, albeit surprised at just how effective he actually was.
“Firmino plays that striker’s role really clever, you don’t really know where he is and it’s unnatural for centre-halves. He pulls you around, pops up in midfield, then someone else replaces him. It’s like a piston in an engine working there,” said Pardew following the defeat.
He’ll selflessly drag and stretch defenses, weaving to create space for the others behind him and what he lacks in pace, he makes up for in guile. There’s an intelligence in everything he does and an instinctive ability to be in the right place at the right time.
The Brazilian has illustrated a diligence in how he presses, not unlike Thomas Muller in the Bundesliga, while maintaining all of the skill and finesse expected of a Samba star.
Against Watford, he showed great strength in his hold up play guarding the ball from the opposing defenders and allowing Coutinho and Lallana to run beyond him. His ability in the air should not be understated either, another attribute you’d associate with a number nine but not necessarily a 10.
What’s most intriguing about Roberto Firmino is that he cannot be pinned down nor worked out as teams struggle to find a resolution for both him and his team. While this continues, it feels like we can continue to expect at least one goal or assist from the Brazilian each game.
At least one more dance routine with Coutinho and Mane, one more shirt off celebration before the ball has crossed the line – all accompanied by a smile that says he’s enjoying his football. In my mind, he might well be the most underrated player in the Premier League and as fans we may only just have realised how good he might become.
While now no longer reliant upon one single player, the limelight will be shared. It’s often said that the star is Jürgen’s team as a group but when do we revise this idea?
At what stage do we assess the possibility that this could well be a team of stars, led by the boys from Brazil.