The 2019/20 Premier League season remains in limbo. One thing is almost certain, though. Even if the authorities decide that the remaining fixtures cannot be fulfilled, Liverpool will be crowned champions. With a 25-point lead at the top of the table, they are virtually uncatchable with nine or 10 games per club still to play.
Theirs has been a collective success, and it is hard to pick out a standout player over the course of the campaign. Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah have all been magnificent, but every member of the squad has played his part in what is sure to be the Reds’ first league title since 1990.
The task of selecting the player who gels everything together is a little more straightforward. It is no exaggeration to say that Liverpool would not be the same side without Roberto Firmino.
Yet if you only consider the raw numbers, the Brazilian seems to have had a slightly underwhelming season. Despite making 29 Premier League appearances as the runaway leaders’ first-choice striker, Firmino has scored just eight goals. Remarkably, none of those have come in front of his own fans at Anfield. He found the back of the net only once during Liverpool’s Champions League campaign, although he did notch the winner against Flamengo in the Club World Cup final.
The fact that those numbers are not held against Firmino is testament to his all-round ability and the other qualities he brings to this Liverpool team.
Despite playing up front, the Brazilian is a creator of chances more than a converter. He enables Mane and Salah, nominally wide players, to move infield and take up dangerous positions in and around the penalty area. His link play is phenomenal, and Firmino is also exceptional at pressing from the front and dragging centre-backs out of position by dropping between the lines.
“He is [unique],” Jurgen Klopp said after a victory over Southampton in February. “He is just exceptional, a very football-smart person, obviously. In the first half, in between a really tight formation of Southampton, the way he drops and keeps the ball, how he makes things happen is very special, absolutely.
“In the first half, in between a really tight formation of Southampton, the way he drops and keeps the ball, how he makes things happen is very special, absolutely. How he uses the skills of his mates is special. I do not know a player like him, that is true.”
Firmino is the perfect fit for Klopp’s side, but that does not necessarily mean he would thrive as a No.9 everywhere. Liverpool’s chief domestic rivals, Manchester City, employ a very different style of centre-forward in Sergio Aguero. At the 2018 World Cup, Brazil boss Tite preferred the more conventional Gabriel Jesus as his line-leader.
Yet it is clear from his regular statements of praise that Klopp would not swap Firmino for anyone. The Brazilian has not been his team’s outstanding individual performer in 2019/20, but no other player is more important to Liverpool.