The Class of 2018/19 is a short series in which, ahead of the new season starting on Friday, The Anfield Talk contributors review the 2018/19 season’s of Liverpool’s squad.
Here is @_MattTandy, reviewing Roberto Firmino‘s season…
The 21st November 2011 was a cold night in Manchester, the Etihad played host to what is always one of the most entertaining games in every Premier League season, Liverpool vs Manchester City.
This particular game will be remembered for the (somewhat delayed) emergence of one of the Premier League’s most enigmatic, yet somehow underrated players, Roberto Firmino.
On this night, Firmino broke clear of the chasing pack down the right-hand side and picked out a glorious reverse pass to Coutinho to help double Liverpool’s lead.
He later went on to score a goal of his own less than 10’ later, opening his Liverpool account, five months after joining the club.
In the years that followed Reds’ fans were treated to memorable moment after memorable moment as Firmino would go on to establish himself as one of Europe’s top players, and the true key to unlocking the potential of Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Introduction to a madman
The 2018/19 season proved a strange one for Firmino, it would be fair to say he struggled to reach the heights of last season in front of goal, but he was a consistent presence in Liverpool’s attack, integral to the way we played all throughout the season.
He notched a respectable 16 goals and provided a further eight assists across 48 appearances in all competitions, Firmino’s position in Liverpool’s attack rarely comes into question, if at all thanks to his selfless attitude.
This aspect of his game proves constantly fruitful for the perhaps higher rated teammates either side of him, never more so than in a season that ultimately ended in glory as Liverpool picked up their sixth Champions League title.
Early season stutters
In the early stages of the season Firmino’s position in the side was in constant flux, one game he would start in at number, then the next he would operate as a number ten in order to accommodate for a flying Xherdan Shaqiri.
These position changes clearly affected his form, the first few weeks saw Firmino under perform statistically, two goals and two assists in the opening ten league games was a disappointing start that saw pundits and rival fans get on his back.
However, despite the struggles Firmino’s importance to the side remained paramount, the contributions of our number nine were all vital ones.
Both of his goals proved to be match winners (in back to back games against Leicester and Tottenham), and he turned provider for Mo Salah’s goal against Brighton in a hard-fought 1-0 win.
In this time, he also provided one of the season’s big highlights in Europe, a last gasp winner off the bench against PSG under the lights would be worth remembering in any season, considerably more so this year though, considering what Liverpool would go on to achieve in the competition.
Not your Dad’s striker
In the modern age of Football Twitter, VAR, players covering their mouth when they talk and “can I have your shirt” signs, stats are becoming more and more vital.
Some modern fans will spend their lives trawling through data on players, reading up on their XG/XA, the chat in your local is probably discussing the amounts of key passes a player makes per games or their heat map.
However, “Bobby” is an anomaly, a glitch in the stats dominated world, who to those looking in may appear average. His twelve goals in the league last season was bettered by Paul Pogba, Gylfi Sigurdsson and a Glenn Murray closer to the retirement home than his debut.
To an outsider looking in Firmino looks replaceable and out of his depth in a front three with two of the Premier League’s joint top-scorers. This couldn’t be further from the truth though, as has been drilled into public consciousness since arriving on Mersyside, Firmino is special.
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The things that make Firmino so vital to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are hard to pick up in the end of season metrics.
He’s essential to Klopp’s side, his hard work upfront and uncanny ability to create space for others allows Salah and Mane to flourish.
Without his tireless work Arsenal would have gotten their hands on at least some ‘silverware’ this season, even if would only have been the standalone golden boot winner.
Late season resurgence
Question marks continued to plague Firmino’s season, a seven-game goalless run spanning from September-November and lasting nearly nine hours of football didn’t help the Brazilians cause.
Despite his perceived troubles, Klopp knew his importance to the side and persisted, and for that he was duly rewarded by a season best run of eleven goal contributions in his last fifteen games of the Premier League season.
During this time Liverpool were fighting tooth and nail in an eventual losing battle to win the Premier League, so ‘Bobby’s’ goalscoring return couldn’t have come at a better time.
The highlight of this run was without question a sensational hat-trick against Arsenal, Firmino was at his Brazilian best, putting the Arsenal defence to the sword time after time and handing Lucas Torreira a huge lesson in the process.
In Europe he proved to be just as important. Though once again not quite as prolific as the season before he carried on performing to a high level.
Two goals and an assist in the Quarter Finals versus FC Porto sent Liverpool on their way to a huge semi-final clash against Barcelona. Firmino would be forced off with an injury after only 12’ in the 3-0 Nou Camp loss but I’m sure you don’t need any reminding of what happened next.
Firmino did return to the starting lineup for the Champions League Final in Madrid, despite a lacklustre performance from our clearly not fully match fit Brazilian, Liverpool lifted number six, the first major honour of Firmino’s club career.
Looking ahead is tough at this juncture. Firmino played well in The Reds’ penalty loss to Man City in the Community Shield, he looked sharp and ready to get the new season started.
Despite no new major additions in the transfer window, Firmino will without doubt remain an integral cog in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool machine. His selfless nature and ability to do the unexpected make him one of the first names on the team sheet each week and The Reds will need him at his dynamic best if they are to go one better this season and bring home the Premier League title.