While not a natural striker, Roberto Firmino has been at the heart of everything good from Liverpool this season, grabbing the plaudits on a continual basis. Jurgen Klopp’s description of the Brazilian as nothing short of a bargain is therefore hardly surprising.
Arriving for a fee of £29million, Firmino initially seemed to struggle at Anfield. Deployed out wide, the Brazilian found it hard to make a consistent impact on games, only showing rare flashes of what we could later come to expect of him. Games seemed to pass him by, leading to increased uncertainty around what he could offer the side.
Brendan Rodgers’ indecision over how to get the best out of the 25-year-old ensured that his qualities weren’t brought to the fore right from the off. Benteke was thought of as the spearhead to Liverpool’s attack following his summer arrival, with Firmino struggling to be anything more than a peripheral figure. The Brazilian played six games under the Northern Irishman, failing to contribute a goal or assist.
Fast-forward a year and Roberto Firmino now finds himself as an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s side. With Daniel Sturridge still suffering with fitness issues, Firmino’s had a chance to shine in the heart of Liverpool’s front three – a chance he has grabbed with both hands.
A total of six goals and three assists this season doesn’t do justice to the Brazilian’s influence. Likewise, a shot accuracy of 58%  in the Premier League, better than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only provides an indication of the ease with which Firmino has slotted into his new role.
Winning an average of 1.5 aerial duels per 90 minutes , Firmino also has something to offer in the air, despite not being blessed with an abundance of height. We saw against Middlesbrough how successful the direct approach was despite not having a big centre forward up front.
He epitomises exactly what Jurgen Klopp looks for in his players – a hardworking, intelligent professional with a clear eye for goal.
“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.” – Alan Pardew
Providing the first line of defence, he presses from the front, thereby setting the tone for the rest of the side. An average distance of 11.5 kilometres a game illustrates the energetic nature of Liverpool’s forward man – an attribute that has seen him rise above Divock Origi and Sturridge in the pecking order.
A STRIKER WHO ISN’T REALLY A STRIKER
Floating as a false nine, Firmino gives Liverpool the ability to play fast, fluid, eye catching football. He can come deep and collect the ball while Mane or Coutinho take up a more advanced position, and it’s that flexibility within the side that has led to Liverpool scoring 40 goals in 16 games this season.
He’ll selflessly stretch defences, weaving in between the lines to create space for his teammates. We saw that in abundance against Crystal Palace; coming deep to collect the ball in midfield, Firmino dragged the defenders with him, allowing Mane and Coutinho to fill the space left in behind.
While Jurgen Klopp often stresses how the collective unit will always take priority over individuals, so much of the exciting football on offer from the Reds stems from Firmino. He is the driving force behind an attack that has gained plaudit after plaudit. The man who makes Liverpool tick.
Firmino represents a new breed of strikers within the game of football – a selfless, multi-functional runner rather than a two-dimensional target man. All the while, the Brazilian is providing a spearhead to Klopp’s movement. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t always been a striker.