Roberto Firmino: The Most Underrated Player In The Premier League?

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Liverpool have played home to some illustrious talents over the years: Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez are names that roll straight off the tongue while other far more under-appreciated stars lie in wait.

Dirk Kuyt was very much of that ilk. Far from the most technically gifted player at the club, the Dutchman was always up for the big occasion, scoring the winning penalty in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea back in 2007 and notching a total of 71 goals in 285 games.

Outside of the club, Manchester City’s Fernandinho represents another under-appreciated craftsman. Serving as an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s title winning season, he’s averaged 1.07 tackles and 1.43 interceptions per ninety minutes.

Then there’s Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son whose tally of 18 goals and 10 assists for the season serve as an indication of the stellar contribution he’s made.

Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, I could go on…

Yet, one individual stands out above the rest – Liverpool’s Bobby Firmino.

Joining for £29million from Hoffenheim, Firmino endured a sluggish start at Anfield. Deployed out wide by Brendan Rodgers, the Brazilian was a peripheral figure, failing to contribute a goal or assist in six games under the Northern Irishman.

Jurgen Klopp’s arrival took Firmino’s game to another level in what can only be described as the perfect match, alleviating fears that Liverpool lacked a striker capable of scoring 20 goals a season.

Prior goal-scoring tallies of 11 and 12 in all competitions in 2015/16 and 2016/17 respectively have been shattered this campaign, with the 26-year-old reaching the 25-goal barrier after netting against Bournemouth.

Accompanied by 14 assists, Firmino’s impeccable positional sense has dragged opponents out of position, providing space for Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Moving towards the ball, he frees up space for his teammates, with the ensuing interchanging of positions adding a seamless unpredictability to Liverpool’s front line.

Salah’s away goal in the first-leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City is a fitting example; charging down the right-hand flank, Firmino’s incisive movement pulled Otamendi out of position, with a fortuitous deflection gifting Salah the chance to convert.

Albeit far from the prettiest goal Liverpool have scored this season, it was indicative of the Brazilian’s effective movement; the driving force of a ruthless front three.

Salah’s goal against Southampton back in February illustrates the archetypical traits present in Firmino’s game.

A sumptuous flick fell perfectly into the Egyptian’s path, exemplifying the brilliance of Firmino’s creative mind; able to read Salah’s run to a tee, the skill was audacious in its attempt, let alone its immaculate execution.

Likewise, in the 5-0 rout against Porto, Firmino produced a delightful prodded through ball to his teammate on the right-hand side of the box, suitably matched by another ice- cold finish from Mo.

Then there’s his defensive traits, the very thing that forced Daniel Sturridge to go out on loan in search of first-team football.

Firmino has won more tackles in the Premier League this season (62) than every other defender in the top-six bar Cezar Azpilicueta, demonstrating his astounding defensive contribution.

For evidence, look no further than the 2-1 triumph at The Etihad. Largely overshadowed due to the magnitude of the result, Firmino’s defensive run was pivotal in determining the outcome of the contest. Indicative of his all-action style, his tenacity to track back and pressurise Kevin De Bruyne prompted the move that led to Salah’s crucial away goal.

Yet, as an underrated genius, individual accolades continue to allude him.

He’ll have every right to feel aggrieved having missed out on the six-man shortlist for PFA Player of the Season. Salah and De Bruyne aside, none of the names are any more deserving than he.

A defender, midfielder and striker rolled into one, Firmino is quintessential to Klopp’s philosophy, embodying the German’s expressive, highly entertaining style.

He’s got more assists than any other striker in the league and the best goal-scoring season of any Brazilian in England’s top flight. His position as the only player to win 60+ tackles and create more than 50 chances in 2017/18, too, represents no small feat.

He’s far more than just a conventional No.9.

An additional absence from the PFA Team of the Season belies all he has achieved this season.

A player previously ridiculed for not being capable of providing the ’20-goal a season’ man Liverpool needed, Firmino’s upward trajectory is undeniable. It’s a shame his talent continues to go unappreciated among the wider footballing world.

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