Liverpool have been blessed with an array of talented No 9s over the years, but none have captured the hearts quite like Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian, 30, does not boast the free-scoring records of greats such as Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres, but his selfless yet crucial role in Anfield’s most famous attacking triumvirate will endear himself to fans for years to come.
However, all good things must come to an end and there are growing fears over the future of Jurgen Klopp’s imperious front three.
Roberto Firmino’s future at Liverpool has faced growing uncertainty in recent months
The Brazilian, 30, has played an integral role in Anfield’s most famous attacking triumvirate
Reports on Monday from Spain suggested that cash-strapped Barcelona are lining up a £16million move for the Brazilian, with Klopp understood to be ready to sanction a summer move as he looks to evolve his three-pronged attack.
Murmurings began 12 months ago when Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher expressed his ‘worry’ for the Brazilian’s future in leading the line at Anfield.
‘When we talk about this Liverpool team, we talk about the front three,’ said Carragher on Monday Night Football after Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Man United. ‘It’s almost like they come as a package.
‘The reason I say that Liverpool’s front three is unique is not that they are better than other front threes, it’s how long they’ve stayed together.
However, there are concerns that Jurgen Klopp is looking to develop his three-pronged attack
Diogo Jota has been sensational for Liverpool and Firmino has had to take a backseat
‘They are all getting to their late 20s and sooner or later that front three will have to be broken up.
‘You can’t, in two years’ time, say “we’re going to buy a new front three” and replace them all. It will change over time.
‘I am still confident Mane and Salah will start scoring goals again. I must say I am worried for Firmino.
‘He has never been seen as “the” goalscorer. That is the responsibility of the other two, but he is there to chip in. When they are not scoring, he has to be a bigger goal threat.’
Enter Diogo Jota. The most expensive of all four of Klopp’s main forward options – at £45million from Wolverhampton Wanderers – the Portuguese has emphatically stated with his performances that he is not at Anfield to play the understudy.
The Portuguese attacker has struck 25 goals in 56 games since joining from Wolves for £45m
Firmino has had to play second fiddle to Jota, while injuries have hampered his progress
The 25-year-old’s numbers speak for themselves. He’s hit an impressive 25 goals in 56 games and has this season started 17 of Liverpool’s 22 Premier League games, underlining his importance to the Reds.
Firmino, by contrast, has just five league starts all season. That is not, however, due to him falling out of favour under Klopp – a hamstring injury has blighted his progress and unfortunately for the Brazilian, Jota has grasped his opportunity.
Regardless of whether the reports in Spain are accurate, Klopp will be under no illusion as to the importance of Firmino in the immediate and short-term future.
Firmino is currently the stand-out name among Klopp’s attacking options at Anfield. Liverpool were always braced for Mo Salah and Sadio Mane’s absences this month, with the pair on international duty at AFCON, and Firmino, Jota and Co are expected to step up in the duo’s absence.
Firmino, however, will still play a crucial role in the immediate and short-term future at Anfield
With Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at AFCON, Firmino will be tasked with providing goals
The 30-year-old may not be, as Carragher correctly pointed out, the most potent attacking threat when compared with Mane and Salah, but his seven goals in 18 games this season is a significant improvement on his nine goals in 48 appearances last term.
‘The situation is clear. They are not here and they are world-class players,’ Klopp said last week when asked about Salah and Mane’s absences. ‘Do we miss them? Yes, but it’s not about who is not here, but about how we can do better.
‘We are here to find solutions. Last night [against Arsenal] we were not perfect but maybe we are closer to our usual standard in the next game and we can win. We have to get through different periods in a season. This is our period now — let’s get through this together.’
Firmino will be one senior dressing room figure helping to guide the ship during this difficult month. With concerns about his future likely to be ringing in his ears, the man Klopp said ‘people will write books about’ will be desperate to prove he can still lead the line.
The Brazilian will attempt to keep Liverpool within touching distance of Man City by the time Salah and Mane return from international duty
More pertinently, with Liverpool 11 points adrift of Man City (with a game in hand) there is simply no margin for error.
He may not have been on the scoresheet in Liverpool’s 3-0 triumph over Brentford but in true Firmino fashion, he put his selflessness before his individual desire for goals by teeing up Takumi Minamino for the Reds’ third goal.
When in an advantageous position to score, the 30-year-old squared to his Japanese team-mate to score. Minamino missed a gilt-edged chance against Arsenal earlier last week and the Brazilian recognised that boosting his team-mate’s confidence took priority.
If Firmino can help keep the Reds just about within touching distance of the runaway leaders by the time Salah and Mane return, Klopp may consider bringing the band back together to hunt down Pep Guardiola’s side over the final stretch.