Jota's emergence springs Firmino back into life for Liverpool

Jota's emergence springs Firmino back into life for Liverpool

The real Roberto Firmino, or at least something close to it, has returned.

The Brazilian has had a 2020 to forget on an individual footballing level, even if he was crowned a Premier League champion during the middle part of the year.

That Club World Cup-clinching goal against Flamengo last December feels like a lifetime ago now, when Firmino was in excellent form and clinched yet more silverware for his club.

While others have had major impacts for Liverpool throughout this year, the 29-year-old has taken up a supporting role, often failing to hit top gear.

Firmino has only scored six goals in the entire calendar year, three of which came before lockdown arrived in March. Meanwhile, his only Premier League goal at Anfield in 2019/20 came in the final home match, against Chelsea.

Goals are far from everything with the Brazil international, of course, but to be so profligate became an issue on occasions, with his finishing leaving a lot to be desired.

His all-round game was poor, too, with touches too heavy, passes failing to find teammates and a slight lack of energy compared to normal.

When Firmino is out of rhythm, both he and Liverpool suffer, with so much going through him. His combination of dazzling creativity, intelligence and work-rate arguably make him the most important player on the pitch.

Thankfully, we are slowly seeing a return of the vintage Firmino – the player who is a joy to watch, producing moments of magic and stamping his authority on matches.

It is admittedly only a small sample size, but three of the last four games Liverpool’s No.9 has featured in have been promising, against Brighton, Ajax and Wolves.

That doesn’t include the midweek cameo against Midtjylland, when he had little time to make an impact.

Firstly, Firmino was unfortunate not to register a stunning assist at Brighton, when he sent Mohamed Salah clean-through with a majestic touch and volleyed pass.

Salah’s subsequent ‘goal’ was harshly ruled out by the dreaded VAR, but that moment of class wasn’t lost on Reds supporters. It was the first sign that Firmino was finding his groove again.

He then produced a lively second half performance when he was brought on in the Champions League win at home to Ajax, so nearly finishing off a beautiful team move in front of the Kop, only to be denied expertly by Andre Onana.

It was another vibrant outing, albeit only for a short period, before earning a start in last weekend’s clash with Wolves.

This was the most encouraging display Firmino has produced in many months, with the silky striker purring in tandem with Salah and Sadio Mane.

Leading the line in his own unique way, the Liverpool legend seemed to bounce off the energy that the returning fans inside Anfield brought to the team – have empty stadiums affected him more than others, in that respect?

Firmino linked up intelligently with colleagues, making the ball stick far better than of late, also throwing in a couple of nutmegs that summed up his returning confidence.

An outrageous scissor-kicked pass to the on-rushing Mane was equally pleasing on the eye, in a moment much more akin to the thrilling attacker we have seen for much of his time at Liverpool, rather than the erratic one who has graced our screens in 2020.

As we head into the festive fixtures, and as the Reds’ title push gathers pace, Firmino has chosen an ideal time to look like a key man again.

It could even be argued that the electric form of Diogo Jota has played a part in him going up a level, with Liverpool’s new signing spoiling the front-three party. He’s been like a cool new kid arriving at school and breaking up a close-knit group of friends, before they realise he’s ‘actually alright’.

The Portuguese has almost been undroppable, having scored nine goals in his first 17 Reds appearances, and for the first time, Salah, Mane and Firmino have had actual top class competition.

A healthy battle for playing time in attack is something Jurgen Klopp has always been crying out for, and he finally finds himself in a situation where he arguably has four world-class players to pick from.

There is always the option of playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, using the entire quartet in unison, but more likely is constant rotation, especially as the fixtures come thick and fast.

When it comes to Firmino, he no longer feels like a passenger who is affecting too much of Liverpool’s play negatively, instead returning to the irrepressible, eccentric footballer we have adored for over five years now.

Bobby is back.