We are nowhere near a situation where Roberto Firmino should be dropped for Liverpool’s biggest games, even though he has scored only three goals in 30 games. No doubt, that’s a disappointing record but it’s not as important when the team is winning.
Despite the Brazilian netting just 12 times last season, the bigger picture for Jurgen Klopp is that he contributed hugely to Liverpool winning the championship. They were also top of the table going into this weekend’s fixtures with Firmino working and creating rather than scoring.
I can see why new signing Diogo Jota is receiving praise after his midweek Champions League hat-trick but I’d be mightily surprised if the manager has seriously considered splitting his trusted big three of Mo Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane at Manchester City.
Roberto Firmino offers much more than just goals as part of Liverpool’s attacking line-up
He doesn’t get lots of goals but he links up so well with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah at Liverpool
It’s not a misjudged sense of loyalty on Klopp’s part. Firmino just fits this Liverpool team, his link play is excellent and it allows Salah and Mane to be at their best in their preferred positions.
Liverpool won’t dominate possession against City so when they have the ball, they need someone they can rely on to hold it and build play. That‘s Firmino.
He also understands the attacking movement and rotation that is such a potent weapon for Liverpool. If he sees Mane go past him making a run to the right, Firmino has the intelligence to fill the hole.
His willingness and ability to press at the right time is also crucial. Yes, he needs to score more. He got 28 in 2017-18 so we know he’s capable. He has to rediscover that habit again of making those sprints into the box rather than depending on others for goals.
Klopp will still be delighted to have Jota as an option for certain games. Players at big clubs who are left out or rested, as Firmino was at Atalanta, tend to accept it better when they respect the quality of the guy who’s taken their place.
This season is going to be uniquely intense and Klopp will use a series of combinations. But for key matches like Manchester City away, balance is all-important and that’s what Firmino provides.
Firmino came on as a substitute against Atalanta while Jota scored a hat-trick during a 5-0 win
Liverpool can win the title without Virgil van Dijk. Two goals conceded in five matches since the Dutchman was hurt is a good start, though I accept tougher tests await, starting with City tomorrow.
Van Dijk is a huge loss. Any team in the world would miss him, but keeping Joel Matip fit is key to Liverpool’s chances.
He hasn’t played since also getting injured in the Mersey derby but we understand he’s back in training and Klopp may have held him back specifically for the challenge City will give them.
Firmino has come under some pressure publicly due to the form of new signing Diogo Jota
Though Joe Gomez has recovered form, Matip gives Liverpool that physical presence, particularly defending set pieces. He has that aerial capability that Klopp’s team missed recently when dealing with Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie.
Matip and Van Dijk were a great partnership when both men had a run in the team together.
Now the responsibility on Matip will be even greater but he doesn’t seem the type to be intimidated by that — he looks calm and assured.
While Fabinho is also capable of playing at the back, Matip is the best option to ensure Van Dijk’s absence doesn’t turn a drama into a crisis.
RECRUITMENT IS PEP DILEMMA
This may be Pep Guardiola’s last season at Manchester City. Or maybe not. Either way, I don’t think it will have any strong effect on Kevin De Bruyne and the other big players at the club.
Players might see the odd headline about Guardiola’s current contract coming to an end in the summer and think ‘I hope he stays because he likes me’, but it wouldn’t alter the desire or willingness when they get on the pitch.
I personally think Guardiola will end up staying longer but where it may concern City if it drags out is on recruitment. If you are chasing the best, those players want to know who the boss will be the following season.
Pep Guardiola’s future needs to be resolved quickly to assist future recruits at the club
If Lionel Messi has a choice of clubs, he’s not going to want to uproot his family and move to another country unless he’s guaranteed some stability on the pitch.
I remember when all the top clubs were chasing Van Dijk. Arsenal made an approach but couldn’t guarantee Arsene Wenger would be in charge the following season while Liverpool’s long-term plan under Klopp was well known.
But for the XI who run out against Liverpool tomorrow, they won’t be thinking ahead to whether Guardiola will be at the club beyond 2021.
STERLING CAN MULTI-TASK
Raheem Sterling must be the modern manager’s dream because he can do such a good job on the right, on the left, as a false nine or even at No10.
Credit to him for producing such consistently high levels in different areas of the pitch. It says a lot about his application and the way he looks after himself.
If I had my choice of where to use him at Manchester City, I’d say he’s at his absolute best on the left flank, where he is such a threat coming in on his right foot.
He sees pictures on the pitch and has learned how to get into the penalty area from that position to be a goal threat.
Raheem Sterling is better off on the left flank rather than coming through the centre
As a more central striker, I don’t think he has the chance to use his dribbling skills as much. He was outstanding on the left at Sheffield United where he was helped by Ferran Torres further ahead and stretching the game.
Gabriel Jesus may be asked to do the same tomorrow and Klopp will know if Liverpool press against City, Sterling has the pace to run in behind them.
The beauty for Gareth Southgate is that Sterling is almost as good on the right as well. He’s a bit more versatile than Marcus Rashford, who prefers the left, so a front three of Sterling, Harry Kane and Rashford works.