Roberto Firmino’s shift in status only serves to underline Liverpool’s new strength in depth



The reminder of the past came at the last. It was stoppage time by time Divock Origi made it on the pitch.

He is as indelibly associated with European Cup knockout ties as David Fairclough and, to all intents and purposes, they were both spectators at Anfield now – but the last time Liverpool won a Champions League quarter- or semi-final on home turf it was when Origin was the unlikely assassin of Barcelona.

Now the permanent understudy is the sixth-choice forward, slipping down the pecking order after the arrivals of first Diogo Jota and then Luis Diaz. The smiling talisman has become a fringe figure. Perhaps the most intriguing element is the status of the man who was Jurgen Klopp’s great constant.

The clue Roberto Firmino will not be starting in the FA Cup semi-final was when Origi came on: specifically, how late it was. The Brazilian’s policy of running himself into the ground meant he was often substituted even in his prime.

This time, Klopp began with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane on the bench and brought Jota and Diaz off with half an hour to spare. Firmino lasted 90 minutes and scored twice in a 3-3 draw. Few have the luxury of naming a weakened team in a Champions League quarter-final but this was one of those days when time spent off the pitch was an indication of status.

Just maybe, Firmino, the great Klopp player who predated Klopp, the gegenpresser in chief, is now fifth-choice forward.

The evidence is not definitive yet. There have been too few marquee games when all five are fully fit. It may become clearer at Wembley on Saturday. Because if this is an 11-day period with four defining fixtures, Liverpool’s first-leg win in Lisbon in effect reduced to it three: Benfica away and the double header with Manchester City.

Firmino, having had the heaviest workload on Wednesday, may start none. His Liverpool career was kickstarted against City, a revelatory display as a false nine in 2015 bringing a belated first goal.

He has sled and harried them to distraction when Liverpool got three wins over City in three months in 2018. Firmino’s contribution included two goals and two assists but stretched far beyond that. I have set the tone.

He has done it in games and in a regime. No one has played more matches for Klopp at Liverpool. Firmino’s unselfishness long made him integral. Against Benfica, sent through on goal by James Milner, he looked for Diaz instead of shooting. So far, so Bobby Firmino.

What followed was the most unFirmino of spells. Perhaps it was his best Jota impression of him, an attempt to ape the elusive finisher who has usurped him. He stole in unmarked in the manner of the Portuguese, the master of movement, for two predatory finishes, the second a superb volley.

He will never be defined by his scoring statistics but there was some numerical significance.

(AFP via Getty Images)

A swift brace gave him 10 goals for the campaign, more than in the whole of last. It took Firmino to 20 in the Champions League for Liverpool, joining a select band with Salah, Mane and Steven Gerrard. It moved him to 98 for Liverpool; he should become the third centurion of the Klopp era, along with his long-time sidekicks who joined after him and accelerated past him.

They may outlast him in the strongest side.

Perhaps Firmino’s future is as the new Origi, the impact substitute. His two previous goals from him came in marquee matches, away at Internazionale and Arsenal, each off the bench.

His eager running may be repurposed as an asset against tiring defenses. He could be the first of the forwards to be phased out in a transition to the future. But it might made the symbol of Klopp’s side the personification of a new strength in depth.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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