Roberto Firmino is a wonderful footballer – let’s start off by acknowledging that.
After a slow start to life at Liverpool, due mainly to Brendan Rodgers expecting him to shine as a right winger, the Brazilian has become a key figure.
The 4-1 win away to Man City in November 2015 was the first time we saw exactly what he can offer, both on and off the ball, and he has thrilled us ever since.
To many, he is the perfect man to lead the line under Jurgen Klopp, with the Liverpool manager even calling his forward, “the most underestimated player in world football”, following the 4-2 win over Hoffenheim in August.
Firmino’s incredible work ethic and pressing game are nicely suited to what the Reds do, and his clever movement, sublime touch and unselfish work in the final third make him a great foil for more explosive figures such as Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
Some supporters simply don’t see how brilliant he is, with many more interested in players who shoot endlessly, attempt tricks and flicks and always like to be in the spotlight. Firmino is more than talented enough to do all of those things if he wanted, but he sees the bigger picture.
When he clicks, he is the man that makes Liverpool purr – can you remember any great Reds performance in the last two years that didn’t involve Firmino at the forefront of it?
Unfortunately, the 26-year-old isn’t perfect, and he has endured a frustrating start to this season, leading to many questioning his role in the team.
While he has produced a few outstanding performances, most notably in that aforementioned 4-2 victory against Hoffenheim at Anfield, a continued lack of goalscoring nous and general ruthlessness have held both him and the team back.
Those not in favour of having Firmino up front have always argued that they want a striker who guarantees at least 20 goals a season.
The counter-argument to that is that if he is helping the wide men and Coutinho chip in with around 15 goals each during a campaign, as well as getting a similar amount himself, it isn’t a problem.
While this is absolutely true, Firmino has fluffed his lines at key moments, missing chances that others would put away in their sleep, on days when his teammates haven’t been at their best.
The 1-1 draw away to Spartak Moscow was arguably his poorest night in a Liverpool shirt, with his all-round game horribly out of nick.
Three guilt-edged chances came his way on a deeply frustrating evening, but not one was taken.
His close-range header was straight at goalkeeper Artyom Rebrov, he then failed to react quickly enough to turn in another opportunity, before a horribly skied effort summed up his night.
Then, in stoppage time, his easy cutback was played behind both Salah and Daniel Sturridge – a contender for The Most Infuriating Moment Of 2017/18 award.
Firmino effectively cost his side two points in Russia, and if his finishing doesn’t improve in front of goal, it could start becoming an issue.
It is now just three goals in open play in 11 games this season – four in total, including his penalty against Watford – which is not good enough.
Perhaps the reason for so many losing their patience with Firmino recently has been because Liverpool’s five main Premier League rivals all have a striker who is born to score goals.
Harry Kane has matured into a world-class player and is performing at a freakishly high standard right now, while Romelu Lukaku has flown out of the traps at Man United.
Alvaro Morata has been a superb signing by Chelsea, with shades of Fernando Torres at his peak about him, and Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are scoring for fun for City.
It will interesting to see how Chelsea and City fare in the coming weeks, following respective injuries to Morata and Aguero.
Alexandre Lacazette has also made a strong start at Arsenal, and although he isn’t on the same level as those mentioned above, his goals have already been vital in earning the Gunners points.
It is so easy to get too down about Liverpool’s current plight, following a string of disappointing results, but the key has been the lack of end product, as well as hapless defending.
The Reds genuinely haven’t played any worse in matches than the likes of City and United, in terms of their quality on the ball, but the table-topping pair have had players taking their chances time and time again.
That couldn’t have been further from the case with Liverpool.
Firmino remains the undisputed first-choice ‘striker’ for the Reds as things stand, but we need to see him find another level when it comes to delivering goals at important times.
He is such a majestic footballer, and someone who is as good as anyone in the league his day, but the lack of a killer instinct is proving troublesome.
Twenty-seven goals in 101 Liverpool appearances is not a great return, even though we know scoring is far from his primary job in the team.
If that aspect of his game doesn’t improve this season, you can’t help but feel more questions will be asked next summer.