Let’s set the scene — it’s September 1, 2017, the summer window has slammed shut, and Liverpool haven’t signed a “true” No. 9.
Just 8 days later, the club suffers a 5-0 humiliation at the hands of eventual Premier League Champions Manchester City. It put their record a W2-L1-D1 through the first four league games of the season. They’ve scored 8, conceded 8.
Despite the club having punched its ticket to the Champions League group stage, some fans are calling for the heads of not only Jürgen Klopp, but also the owners Fenway Sports Group.
The early perception…
Fast forward nine months, and the club have now qualified for the Champions League for a second successive season, the first time since 2009. Fans also have a Champions League final to look forward to. Things off the pitch are on the up and for once, the fan base seems united.
But back to the start of the season — Liverpool started the season with Brazilian Roberto Firmino playing in the No. 9 role alongside Sadio Mané and new signing Mohamed Salah. Salah’s acquisition from Roma appeared to be Liverpool’s marquee summer signing, something that many fans, myself included, were aghast at. After all, Salah was yet another Chelsea reject who had flopped in the Premier League already.
From nervous excitement at his hotel to the joy of wearing #LFC red, we were with Salah all the way. 🔴
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) June 24, 2017
So it seemed Firmino was being given the task of leading the Liverpool attack — a player who in the previous season scored a measly 11 goals in all competitions.
Hardly the statistics to breed hope amongst to the Liverpool faithful.
…and how it was changed
Thankfully for the Liverpool faithful, moving Firmino in to the ‘9′ position was a masterstroke by Klopp. He has been the focal point for many of Liverpool’s attacks. His relentless running, harassing, and chasing of opposition defenders have proven to be the catalyst for much of Liverpool’s success in both the Premier League and the Champions League this season.
Such was the Brazilian’s importance that fans were overjoyed when the club announced that Firmino had agreed a new contract at the end of April.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) April 29, 2018
While Salah was breaking records and stealing the headlines, Firmino’s contribution was hard to over look.
Not one to shy from goal, Firmino finished the Premier League season with an impressive 15 goals in 37 appearances, or roughly 0.5 goals per 90 minutes. He also created 57 chances, notched 7 assists and averaged 2.3 shots per game. In true Firmino fashion, he also averaged nearly 3 defensive actions per 90.
In the games that if Firmino appeared to be off form, Liverpool’s potent attack didn’t function as well as it should. It was only in his absence that we learned what a game-changer he truly is.
When Philippe Coutinho left the club for Barcelona in January, Firmino’s performances sky-rocketed. It appeared that he took over the mantle of being Liverpool’s playmaker in the absence of his fellow countryman.
Teams found it impossible to contend with his constant movement and this Liverpool thrived in attack as a result. Firmino constantly pulled defenders out of position, which in turn opened up space for Mané and Salah to attack from the wings or the likes of Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to exploit in midfield.
Long overdue recognition
Firmino’s importance to Jürgen Klopp’s style of play should not be underestimated, though until recently, it has often gone unrecognized. Pundits are starting to take notice, though.
Ex-Arsenal striker Thierry Henry recently hailed Firmino as one of the best strikers in the Premier League. Even ex-Manchester United captain Gary Neville put Firmino in to his team of the season.
Gary Neville picking Andy Robertson and Roberto Firmino in his Team of the Season is one of the best things a United player has ever done.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) April 30, 2018
With the spotlight being on Salah this season, it has allowed Firmino to adapt his game to the new role given to him by Klopp at the start of this season, but without the pressure associated with a typical No. 9. Firmino has been given license to play his own game, knowing that around him there are players who thrive off his contributions, both with and without the ball.
In the next few years, hopefully Firmino turns into even more of a fan favourite — maybe he’ll even become a legend alongside some of Liverpool’s most storied No. 9’s.