If there’s a fear that will be eating away at some Liverpool fans, despite their side being at the the pinnacle of the Premier League, it is their possible inability to win the title. A point above second placed Chelsea, who have not conceded a single goal in four games and a two point lead over Manchester City, is probably enough to suggest that the position isn’t a fluke after all. And Jurgen Klopp’s men from Anfield haven’t just shown mere glimpses, but we have witnessed moments that probably go on to suggest that Liverpool possibly are the best team in England right now.
The 6-1 hammering of Watford on Sunday saw the Reds come up with a performance that seemed to have blown the Hornets away. A Sadio Mane brace and goals from Philippe Coutinho, Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum, Emre Can and Roberto Firmino gave the fans at Anfield a game to cherish for some years, as Walter Mazzarri’s men disappeared without trace. And quite apparently, Philippe Coutinho was at the centre of attention throughout the game as he dazzled under the spotlight. But amidst all the glitz and glamour that surrounded Coutinho’s impeccable showing, it is his Brazilian counter-part in Robert Firmino, who has been just as crucial to the Reds’ success this season and its time he gets the recognition he deserves.
The 25-year-old racked up two assists, apart from scoring his goal and looked threatening everytime he received the ball. The Brazilian seems to ooze with intent and purpose on pitch, with his movement around the box and away from it always causing trouble for the opposition defenders.
His tally of five goals and three assists isn’t completely a reflection of the kind of season he has had so far. Firmino scored ten times last season and that too, isn’t a fair presentation of the contributions he made for the team. This year though, Firmino has found the back of the net 14 times, only less than the likes of Jermaine Defoe, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa. And this probably goes on to prove that the little genius is quite close to being one of the best ‘strikers’ in the league, in terms of goals scored.
Manager Jurgen Klopp, whose promises of playing ‘full-throttle football’ is coming true, insisted that his side relies on all players, unlike sides like City or Spurs, who rely on the goal-scoring heroics of Sergio Aguero or Diego Costa. “I had the same idea at Dortmund. Everything was about the team but against Real Madrid [Robert] Lewandowski scored four goals and we benefited from all the praise,” says the German. “Had he not scored we would have lost 1-0. Everything we do is about the players and you can’t lose one and still have the perfect situation. So at the moment it is OK.”
And Firmino forms a massive part of the system that is currently in place. The 4-2-3-1 formation, that often transitions to a 4-3-3, sees Jordan Henderson sit deep, allowing the cover for the likes of Mane, Coutinho, Firmino, Adam Lallana to press and counter-press. Apart from pressing high up the pitch, Liverpool like to nick the ball off in areas close to the goal, as soon as the opposition look to build from the back. They stifle the opposition backline into losing the ball, once they lose the ball around the final third.
Firmino fits into the style inch-perfectly. Although the 25-year-old did take time in finding his feet at Anfield, but the similarities in the systems of both Brendan Rodgers and Klopp has helped him get accustomed to the style quicker than someone else would’ve. He is a tireless worker, who is never seen occupying an immobile position across the pitch. He’s always looking to win the ball back, harry the defenders and deny them any spaces to work with. He has made 1.4 tackles per game, apart from having made 1 interceptions per game too.
In a system that sees a lot of fleet-footed players and players with similar strengths play, Firmino is the man who does the job of being a jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none like talent. He can score, create or press with high-intensity up front.
One of the rarest traits that Firmino has up sleeve is his movement, which can open up the tightest of defences. His positioning near the half-spaces and the movement slightly deeper towards the midfielders, drags either the full back or the centre-half out of position, opening up spaces for the team-mates to run into . And this ability of his is massively underrated.
But as the season wears on and the Reds’ team-depth comes under scrutiny, it is the Brazilian who can end up playing an ever greater role for Jurgen Klopp. With Danny Ings out with a second serious knee injury in two seasons and Sadio Mane very likely to feature for Senegal in the upcoming African Cup of Nations tournament, Liverpool will be found wanting of players who those who can step upto the plate. And Firmino’s versatility will certainly allow him to do that.
And as a title-charge beckons, players who fit into the mould of Klopp-esque will act as the most vital components of a possible champion side.