The battle to win the Premier League next season will be ferocious as all the top six sides are busy strengthening their squads this summer. With Alexandre Lacazette having joined Arsenal and Romelu Lukaku bound for Old Trafford, it has been claimed on social media that Liverpool now have the worst strike force out of any of the top six sides.
Plenty of people, Reds fans and rivals alike, are posting statements along the lines of: “Chelsea: Costa, Tottenham: Kane, Man City: Aguero, Liverpool: Firmino, Arsenal: Lacazette, Man Utd: Lukaku, Good luck Firmino…” That is doing Roberto Firmino a massive disservice, while it is also failing to take into account how well balanced Liverpool’s attack is currently looking and the added threat provided by the likes of Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge.
Firmino was a joy to behold last season, a slick and elegant blend of movement, positional awareness, sublime touch, creativity and goal scoring prowess. He has flourished since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp as manager and there is every reason to think that 2017-18 could be a breakout campaign for the silky Brazilian forward.
Fans were full of excitement when Brendan Rodgers snapped him up in a £29 million deal from Hoffenheim back in 2015. He initially struggled to cope with the pace of the Premier League and Rodgers made matters worse by playing him out on the right. But Klopp appreciates his qualities, so much so that big money signing Cristian Benteke was frozen out and then shown the door to make way for Firmino to lead the Liverpool line.
A return of 22 goals from 90 Liverpool games is not exactly the sort of form to send fear shivering down the spines of rival defences. But Firmino is improving in front of goal all the time and he also brings a lot more to the team than the vast majority of his peers. The jury is still very much out on Lacazette, and Klopp’s reluctance to pursue the Frenchman shows how highly he rates his number nine. Instead he is reinforcing other areas, bringing in Mohamed Salah and targeting Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk. Costa may leave Chelsea, while Aguero is hugely injury prone. And none of those strikers, including Kane and Lukaku, are as good as Firmino at bringing other players into the game.
His unselfish nature and ability to work in harmony with fellow attackers, from Philippe Coutinho and Leroy Sane to Adam Lallana and Origi, made Liverpool an attacking force to be reckoned with last season. Only Chelsea, Tottenham and Man City scored more goals than the Reds, and the difference was slight. Liverpool spread the goals around nicely, with Firmino, Coutinho, Sane, Lallana, Origi and Sturridge all chipping in.
Firmino’s attributes have led to him regularly being selected to represent his country, banging in five goals in 13 games for Brazil. Many Liverpool fans are understandably calling for the club to sign more of an out and out striker, a ruthless marksman, but they should not forget what Firmino contributes to the team. If he is at the peak of his powers, working in tandem with Mane, Coutinho and Salah, it could see Liverpool outscore any team in the land.
Check a list of betting sites, compare them and you will see that Liverpool are not rated as highly as the likes of Man City and Chelsea by the bookmakers. In fact they are joint fifth favourites to win the 2017/18 Premiership title with Arsenal, well behind City, Chelsea, Man Utd and Spurs in the odds. That will suit Klopp and Firmino just fine and dandy. Let them go under the radar a little and show their true quality. But for a miserable period after the New Year, Liverpool were very much in contention last season. Klopp is making excellent moves to strengthen the spine of his side in the transfer market and the Reds should kick on next season. If Firmino does not improve his goals per games ratio questions will be asked, but he has the trust of his manager and could well repay Klopp by enjoying a magnificent third season, just like predecessor Luis Suarez. No pressure, then.