Players can change games simply by producing an individual piece of genius or skill. Finding players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is the holy grail for football clubs, as these players have the quality to unlock defences when there is no possibility of scoring.
Roberto Firmino is not a player who could be rated at the same level, but he is a unique talent, nonetheless. Even though the Liverpool player can be underrated by some sections of the media, he is undoubtedly the key to Liverpool’s attack.
The Brazilian plays a vital role both offensively and defensively. When his team are in possession, he generally moves deeper, leaving defenders with a dilemma as to whether to go with him or not.
If they close him down, they leave gaps for both Mo Salah and Sadio Mane to come inside and fill the space, but if Firmino is left to his own devices, he begins to create even more problems.
The 27-year-old’s one and two-touch passing means he can be a key playmaker in the final third of the pitch, and rather than playing as a traditional number nine, he gets in between the lines and plays as a number ten. It’s very successful when the front three play narrow with quick interchanges leaving defences confused and disoriented.
As supporters will have seen, though, it isn’t the only string to his bow. His defensive work is on a different level to other top strikers in the Premier League.
Comparing him to Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, you can see the difference in work rate.
Firmino averages 4.72 one-on-one defensive duels per 90 minutes, the closest to that average is Rashford’s 3.31. The Brazilian averages 2.48 interceptions per game with the nearest again being Rashford on 1.95.
In terms of all-round defensive work, he is on a different level entirely, making 3.86 successful defensive actions per 90, with the rest trailing well behind, with the lowest being Abraham at 1.99.
He may not be a Messi or Ronaldo who can turn the game on its head with one touch, but he is the key cog in Jurgen Klopp’s side, both with and without the ball. As we saw in his absence against Newcastle on Saturday in the first half, the team just doesn’t function as well without him. He is truly one of a kind.