This is a series for the unsung heroes of European football; players who are integral parts of their clubs but don’t get the recognition their efforts deserve. Episode One brings you Liverpool’s versatile Brazilian Roberto Firmino.
A lot is said about the attacking fluidity of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side and the amount of goals they can score to truly decimate a side. The likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho grab the headlines with dazzling displays and goals aplenty but the way I see it there is one man who makes this all happen for the Reds and that is the makeshift striker in this side; Roberto Firmino. Since signing from Hoffenheim in 2015 for £26 million he has been a crucial part of the club’s plans and under Jurgen Klopp’s tenure he has become the most important key of them all, here is why.
His work ethic is absolutely second to none not only in the Liverpool squad but also when looking at the Premier League as a whole. As far as I see it only N’golo Kante comes close to Firmino in terms of sheer hard work and covering distance throughout the game. His pressing style is absolutely perfect for the way Jurgen Klopp wants his side to play and having Firmino is like having a frontline of defence without the ball. Since his arrival no attacker has covered more ground than he is or made as many tackles and interceptions as him, he really does lead from the front with his play.
Roberto Firmino’s game isn’t just about the nitty gritty, however; there is also an air of beauty about the way he plays the game. You can certainly see the Brazilian Samba style in his play when he gets the ball at his feet, using trickery and quick footwork to bamboozle his opponent. His skill against Roberto Soldado in the Europa League has become a viral hit and been renamed by some ‘The Firmino turn’ thanks to how slick and elegant he makes it look. His flair is too hot to handle at times and can draw so many players over to try stop him that he frees up space for teammates to operate.
Although Firmino’s goal return doesn’t match that of the likes of Aguero, Lukaku and Kane, he does have some impressive statistics in terms of contributing to goals for his club. Since arriving in the Premier League, Firmino has made 80 league appearances, scoring 26 goals and getting 16 assists; meaning he offers over a goal every two games whether he scores it himself or provides it. The beginning of the 2017/18 campaign has certainly been his best for goal return so far in his career as it has seen him score 11 goals already in all competitions. He has a 43% shooting accuracy which is better than most in the division and his performances have been fantastic in front of goal, he hasn’t squandered a big opportunity when it has come his way.
His football IQ is admirable and something which has been noticed by Jurgen Klopp as perhaps his greatest asset. In every big game against a top six side in the Premier League you can see that Roberto Firmino has been set out with a game plan to not only be a goal threat but also to hassle defenders and force mistakes. Firmino’s pressing and hassling brings the rest of his teammates up the pitch and puts Liverpool on the front foot so his role is vital to the club’s successes. Against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season we saw his brilliance in full effect as he forced errors out of their back line and got his side right on top of United, helping get a positive result for Klopp’s side with his movement and off-the-ball work.