Roberto Firmino adds to his Liverpool folklore after joining the club of the century at Anfield
In its own way, it was a particularly fitting tribute. Asked to congratulate Roberto Firmino after statistically the most productive game of his Liverpool career yielded two goals and three assists, Jurgen Klopp instead began talking about a game in which he neither scored nor assisted.
And if, citing his beloved Brazilian’s display in last week’s loss to Manchester United, suggested Klopp was showing his contrarian streak, Firmino has long made contributions his manager appreciates even though many others do not notice or appreciate them.
Perhaps also it was appropriate for an individual milestone to be camouflaged. Firmino spoke of a century of goalscoring at Liverpool, but the most notable stats were for the team: their 9-0 demolition of Bournemouth was the biggest joint win in Premier League history.
Firmino spent much of his career at Anfield being overshadowed, willingly sacrificing himself so that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane could be more prolific. While Liverpool have surpassed 800 goals under Jurgen Klopp, they have almost half that. Of Firmino’s 100, none came for Brendan Rodgers, 100 for Klopp.
The Senegalese is gone now, but it is remarkable that three contemporaries are all centurions. As a trio, they stand out in Liverpool history: for example, while Steven Gerrard played with Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler, he had scored just 14 goals before the latter moved to Leeds. There wasn’t a trio of players with a ton of goals for Bob Paisley or Bill Shankly.
Liverpool have never had a time like the past few years and while Firmino, 31 in a few weeks, in the final year of his contract and having lost his status as an automatic choice, may be coming to an end, he has had a place at go. in Klopp’s heart and in his tactics.
“We never doubt him,” said Virgil van Dijk. “He showed again why he is a world-class player.”
But a very different one. Sometimes he was the non-striker who didn’t score. Liverpool’s biggest false nine has been a statistical curiosity. They posted 99 points in a season where he scored no league goals at Anfield before the last home game. His brace against Bournemouth marked his first top-flight strikes at home since 2020. It highlights his minor role last season, amid injuries, but also his ability to score important goals: he had struck at Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Inter Milan in the meantime.
Scroll back seven years and his breakthrough came at Stamford Bridge, his first goal at the Etihad Stadium and his Anfield account opened against Arsenal. Klopp took over a team 10th in the league and with Firmino looking for a misfit and he scored the goal that won the Club World Cup.
Indeed, Firmino supplanted Daniel Sturridge, but he was the anti-Sturridge. Considering everything he does, it remains remarkable that he struck 27 times during his superb 2017/18 campaign; he, Salah and Mane finished the campaign in double figures in the Champions League. And yet there have been droughts: 12 games at the start, 15 at the start of 2021, vast spells of Anfield league games.
While he became the 19th member of Liverpool’s Hundred Club, in one respect he only ranks 15th among them. His average of one goal per 3.31 appearances is no better than those of Ian St John, John Barnes and Gerrard. The Scot was a striker who found himself in midfield; none of the English have ever been a striker. Arguably Firmino isn’t either, but there’s a comparison to a man he’s paired with: Kevin Keegan, another talismanic scurrier, also has exactly 100 goals at Liverpool, and from just eight fewer games, with 323. But 62 of Firmino’s outings have been as a substitute, and none by Keegan.
Firmino rarely gives the impression that he cares about his goal tally and Klopp can seem oblivious.
But there are times when Firmino gravitates more towards the center circle than the six-yard box. The inverted forward line comes courtesy of the man who inherited the No.9 jersey from Fowler, Fernando Torres and Ian Rush but seemed to want to be a defensive midfielder, such was his enthusiasm to regain possession.
He didn’t always behave like a typical striker. Indeed, only two of his goals have come from penalties. That 98 in open play was augmented by 70 assists, including 21 for Salah and 17 for Mane, a player who rarely took set pieces. Factor them in and that becomes 170 direct goal contributions in 331 outings.
And while Firmino’s uniqueness could be demonstrated when Liverpool signed a long-term successor, in Darwin Nunez, who is very different, his statistics illustrate the challenge. In his idiosyncratic way, while thankfully being outclassed by Salah and Mane, Roberto Firmino also won the numbers game.