SOME of the missing pieces in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool jigsaw are starting to fall into place, but he is waiting for Roberto Firmino to come to the party in next Saturday’s game at Arsenal.
Last weekend’s 4-1 rout of Cardiff at Anfield told us nothing new about Liverpool’s title hopes, as they were playing against a side with the sole intention of keeping the score down rather than trying to win a football match.
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock’s claim ahead of kick-off that his side would try and press Liverpool was clearly some needless spin for public consumption. The Welsh club played with a flat back six, four men in front of them and only scored their consolation goal due to a freaky deflection off Virgil van Dijk that allowed their otherwise lonely striker a chance to score from what would have been an off-side position.
It was as easy a win as Liverpool will have all season and there were good signs from some of their key players.
Sadio Mane looked to have his spark back and Mo Salah has scored four goals in his last three games, but I was watching Firmino from the stands at Anfield last weekend and something is not quite right with him.
Klopp has tried something a little different with his Brazilian forward in the last three games. He played behind lead striker Daniel Sturridge against Huddersfield and again as the attacking midfielder supporting frontman Salah in the Champions League against Red Star Belgrade and then against Cardiff, but it didn’t work.
Some question Firmino’s influence in Liverpool’s dynamic front three, but he is a crucial component of the attacking unit working, as he is the link man who can create the space for Salah and Mane to work their magic.
Firmino is not always the player to get on the end of chances, but his intelligent movement gives his team-mates a platform to shine and that just hasn’t been happening so far this season.
I have been trying to work out what has been wrong with Liverpool’s front three throughout this campaign because while the goals have been flowing, they have lost some of their fear factor that carried Klopp’s side all the way through to the Champions League final last May.
Well, I suspect the primary reason why that thrilling attacking cohesion has lost some of its bite this season is due to Firmino’s dip in form, while his change of position will not help that issue.
As he has proved over the last couple of seasons, this intelligent footballer is at his best when he is leading the Liverpool forward line and I don’t see him having as big an impact playing behind the lead forward.
Klopp has hinted that Firmino will not be used in a deeper role permanently, but it is clear that he has been moved because he is not performing as we know he can in his favoured position and the pressure is on him to click back into gear quickly.
Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri have made their mark in big games this season and they will be waiting in the wings for a starting role if Firmino does not start firing, yet I am backing Liverpool’s number nine to start firing sooner rather than later and when he does, Klopp’s team will be serious title challengers.
I suggested in my Herald column a month ago that all of Liverpool’s attacking stars were off the pace, but Salah and Mane are threatening to correct that problem and hopefully Firmino will follow that lead.
Liverpool will have no chance of finishing ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League title race unless their trio of attacking stars are on top form – and Klopp is only waiting on one of them to find his mojo now.
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