When you think of forwards with measly goal records who still maintain a regular place in their club’s starting XI, you tend to think of big, powerful target men whose main purpose is to act as a foil for their goalscoring strike partner.
What you don’t think of is slender-framed Brazilians with all the skill, eccentricity and flare that we’ve become accustomed to from South American players.
That’s what makes Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino so unique.
Since arriving at Anfield from Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in 2015, the number nine’s role at the club has undoubtedly developed, and - while the goalscoring charts may suggest he’s becoming less of a threat - the truth is his influence is more important than ever.
Having been deployed in a number of positions by Brendan Rodgers during his maiden season in the Premier League, the arrival of Jürgen Klopp saw Firmino restored to his preferred forward role.
Clearly better suited to the central berth, the Brazilian began to find his feet in English football, bettering his previous campaign’s goal tally in each of his first three seasons at the club.
However, since 2017/18, Firmino’s numbers have begun to dwindle and he’s currently on course to record his lowest league return since arriving on Merseyside. Short-sighted critics may look at this as proof that his performance levels are beginning to drop, however, the impact he’s had on Liverpool’s title-winning campaign stretches far beyond putting the ball in the net.
Firmino doubters: if you don't understand Firmino you don't really understand football. The job of any player is to help the team win games, and in turn, win trophies. Firmino does that, and then some; some 25-goal-a-season players might not (but their stats look better). https://t.co/fs4BcVrvYQ— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) July 13, 2020
Klopp’s teamsheet prior to kick off may show Firmino as the spearhead of his side’s attack, but in reality, it could just as easily show him at left midfield, right wing or in the number ten position.
The term ‘false nine’ has never been more apt for a player than it is for Liverpool’s frontman. He’s shown as a forward for admin purposes as much as anything; his area of work in the team is far from limited to the frontline.
Despite being deployed as a defensive midfielder in his early years, Firmino’s class and eye for goal soon saw him pushed further up the field, firstly as an advanced midfielder before finally settling into life as a forward.
The switch in positions paid off, as he ended both of his final two seasons at Hoffenheim as the club’s leading scorer in all competitions.
Being the main man and centre of attention at a club is clearly a role Firmino relishes. With his brightly coloured hair and nonchalant no-look finishes, he possesses all the swagger and eccentricity we’ve come to expect from samba stars.
At 28, Firmino is entering his prime, though his selfless running and willingness to put the team’s glory before his own mean he has notched just eight league goals this season.
The most recent example of the Liverpool forward’s unappreciated work rate came at home to Aston Villa.
With Klopp’s men unable to unlock a resolute Villans defence, Firmino’s incisive movement dragged Ezri Konsa out of position, giving Naby Keita the freedom of the Liverpool left. Villa managed to regroup, though again the frontman burst into life, engineering a pocket of space for Sadio Mane who emphatically provided the finish.
The scoresheet would say ‘Mane’, the assist would go to Keita, but the strike was made possible by Firmino.
While his doubters will pinpoint the forward’s barren run on home soil – and in fairness, no Premier League goal at Anfield since March 2019 does make for grim reading - the Brazilian's goals away from home this season have contributed hugely to the Reds’ success.
Winning goals at Southampton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolves have amassed a total of ten points for Klopp’s side this campaign. Handsome numbers, indeed.
While those ten points may seem relatively trivial given the Reds’ substantial lead, who knows what effect it could have had on the club’s momentum if those wins – many of which came in the opening months of the season – suddenly became disappointing draws.
The 28-year-old’s Liverpool tally currently stands at 77 goals in 242 games – a far from paltry return given the prolific marksmen that sit either side of him in one of the most lethal front threes in European football.
Very few criticisms have been levelled at Klopp since he arrived on Merseyside, though his failure to provide adequate backup for the spearhead of Liverpool’s forward trio has been the source of concern for some.
Their current deputy - former Lille striker Divock Origi - offers a stark reminder of Firmino’s brilliance, not just in the quality of his play but also in the nature of his play.
While Liverpool fans will instantly recall ‘that goal in the Champions League final’ or ‘that goal against Barcelona’ when asked of Origi’s biggest goals for the club, they would struggle to reminisce over a particular goal Firmino has scored - but that’s not a criticism.
The goals that are scored by others are his major contributions to the club, his movement and work rate makes them possible. Origi doesn’t offer that, so while he may be lauded for scoring some huge goals, Liverpool wouldn’t have experienced as much success with a striker of his ilk in the team over Firmino.
"We only have chances in other positions because Bobby plays the way he plays"— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) July 13, 2020
Jürgen Klopp rarely sounds more exasperated than when he is asked about Roberto Firmino’s goal tally. It undercuts the "unbelievably valuable" work the Brazilian does... https://t.co/k1wKEnrwSr
Ultimately, Liverpool’s magic frontman will likely receive the adulation he deserves when he is no longer in the team – a scenario the Anfield faithful have yet to experience - with Firmino missing just ten league games in the past four seasons – but this shouldn’t be the case.
A forward as intelligent, gifted and skilled as he is deserves to be recognised at the peak of his powers, because without him, Liverpool may well still be awaiting their maiden Premier League crown.