Firmino’s improvised finish proved he’s not Liverpool’s spare tyre just yet
It’s a task that would daunt any manager and one that edges closer with every passing season – how do you replace Liverpool‘s front three?
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have been devastating goalscorers at Anfield, so, even though both forwards will be in their thirties by the start of next season, Liverpool will do everything possible to retain their services.
That leaves Roberto Firmino. One of Brendan Rodgers’ last signings for the club, Firmino has served Liverpool with distinction but has seen his own goal contributions wane in recent years.
From a career-high of 27 in 2017-18, the Brazil international has scored just nine goals in each of his last two Premier League campaigns. Meanwhile, Diogo Jota has slotted in seamlessly when Firmino has missed matches through injury.
Tony Cascarino summarised the issue on talkSPORT: “All three of them, Firmino, Salah and Mane have played a high level of football, over a number of seasons.
“It was who was going to have the knock-on season. I would say Firmino didn’t have the season we know he is capable of – Salah was the best of the three last season.
“Maybe Jota coming into the club upset the dynamics of the three in some bizarre way because Jurgen played him, at times. He came in and hit the ground running.
“Certainly one will go, it will be who will be the first one to go? At this moment in time, it looks like Firmino.”
But don’t underestimate the 29-year-old’s ability to make conventional wisdom look foolish at a moment’s notice.
Firmino started on the bench against Porto after an injury-hit start to the season. In his absence, Liverpool tore into their Portuguese opponents with the relish of a Weatherspoon’s regular attacking their £7.95 tikka masala.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were 3-0 up by the time Firmino entered proceedings but he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to prove a point.
His second goal was a tidy finish after pouncing on a blocked effort from Curtis Jones, demonstrating the predatory instincts that his critics believe are lacking.
But his first was far better – a true moment of improvised brilliance. Yes, Diogo Costa had gone walkabout in the manner of a Staffordshire terrier bounding after an imaginary stick – Liverpool would be missing a trick if they didn’t offer Loris Karius to Porto.
That little fact doesn’t alter how Firmino spotted the goalkeeper miles off his line and rolled the ball past him from 30 yards out. Costa’s despairing dash, so near but never likely to catch up with the shot, added to the surreal nature of the strike.
— BabyLittleBob_FT (@BabyLittleBob) September 28, 2021
Despite their continued brilliance, Liverpool will need to revamp their prolific forward line at some stage. In elite football, to stand still is to risk slipping backwards and Klopp will surely not countenance that.
And it’s hard to see anyone other than Firmino being the first to make way – simply because his other two forward partners are so consistent as to be irreplaceable.
But that doesn’t mean his days at Anfield are numbered just yet. At his best, Firmino links play like nobody else and still retains the capability to produce moments of improvised brilliance.
Not every player would’ve had the wherewithal to take advantage of Costa’s error and finish so unerringly.
And it showed those rushing to write him off might be a little premature.
By Michael Lee