Heading into the 2017-18 season, it was clear Jürgen Klopp had settled on his first choice striker, that the hard-working, multi-positional Roberto Firmino was going to be the man leading the line week in and week out for the Reds and that how he took to the role would go a long way towards determining Liverpool’s success.
Not everyone was as convinced. With the season more than half done, nobody doubts Klopp’s call any more. At least not if they’ve been paying attention. A few further flung observers may not be up to speed, but to anyone watching, Firmino has established himself as a top striker—perhaps the top striker for Klopp and Liverpool.
“Since Jürgen Klopp became our manager, this has been my new position,” Firmino noted about his late move to striker. “I wasn’t a striker before but as I’ve been adapting into this position I’ve liked it more and more. I feel really comfortable and really adapted to it. I’d like to continue playing there for the rest of my career.”
Having played most of his career on the wing or in attacking midfield—after starting out at the youth levels as a defensive midfielder, something that still informs his tenacity, his willingness to press and tackle from the front—to establish himself as a top striker as a 26-year-old doesn’t exactly reflect a typical career progression.
It’s what he is, though. A top striker. His approach and skillset might not be universally applicable, but then the same could be said about any striker—there are sides even more lauded strikers like Harry Kane and Edinson Cavani would struggle to fit in, and neither would be as perfectly suited to play for Klopp as Firmino is.
The difference for Firmino now is that it’s more than just a question of fit and skillset and of his suitability for Klopp. Now, the goals are there, too. He has 17 goals and 9 assists in 31 total appearances, a goal or assist every 91 minutes. Now, to go with work rate and fit for the system, he’s the sixth top scorer in the Premier League.
Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata has a goal or assist every 128 minutes since making his £60M Chelsea move. Romelu Lukaku moved to Manchester United for £90M and is firing at a goal or assist every 119 minutes. Alexandre Lacazette, who cost Arsenal more than £50M, has managed a goal involvement every 146 minutes.
Based on production alone and last summer’s big money transfers in the Premier League, Firmino is currently performing like a £100M-plus striker. Then you add in the work rate, the tenacity, and all the rest—the fact that he’s the perfect striker for Klopp—and you get Liverpool’s most important player by some margin.
“I’m always very happy to score and to give assists, give passes,” he added. “I work hard and I want to help my teammates. It’s not always the goal itself, though the goal is the fruit of the work. I like to work hard, [and] I like to drop back and help defend because that then turns into attack, turns into goals.”