Roberto Firmino is rarely mentioned in the discussions about the world’s greatest No 9s but his manager Jurgen Klopp considers him the starting point of all Liverpool’s success since 2015.
The selfless Brazilian is the polar opposite to Manchester United’s celebrated centre-forward Cristiano Ronaldo in what will be a fascinating contrast of styles when they run out at Old Trafford.
Yet nobody in the Anfield dressing-room would swap their Bobby right now — not even for a multiple Ballon d’Or winner.
Roberto Firmino has five goals and an assist to his name in his last four Liverpool appearances
The Brazilian’s style of play could not be in more direct contrast to that of Cristiano Ronaldo
‘He is a connector; the best offensive defender I ever saw in my life. A very important player for us,’ eulogises Klopp about his special striker.
‘He’s a ball-chaser, incredibly smart tactically and able to play in the tiniest spaces; to make good decisions in really quick time.
‘And on top of that he can score goals, which is why we are so happy when he rewards himself from time to time, like the hat-trick he got at Watford.’
By happy coincidence, Ronaldo and Firmino each played their 300th game for their current clubs last week.
The pair marked it in their own trademark fashion. Ronaldo leapt to score United’s winner and grab the headlines, Firmino ran more than any Liverpool player to lay the foundations for their impressive 3-2 win away to Atletico Madrid.
In his best scoring season, Firmino netted 27 times when Liverpool reached the Champions League final in 2018.
The goals have dried up relatively-speaking since: he failed to reach double figures last season but Klopp knows that without Firmino Mo Salah wouldn’t be a regular Golden Boot contender, for example.
‘Everybody loves it when Bobby scores because sometimes you think he is a bit short of getting praise for the effort he puts in,’ adds Klopp.
‘He is just a brilliant player and it really is a joy to work with him. It isn’t impossible to play our way without him because we do have options but when we started this years ago it was because Bobby could play the role. So he was very influential in all the things we did.’
Jurgen Klopp was full of glowing praise for his forward and how much he means to the team
The modern football world is often built on ego and Salah is beginning to receive the type of mass acclaim Ronaldo and Messi have had throughout their careers.
Yet the top managers such as Klopp know dressing-room harmony also depends on those players adored by everyone. N’Golo Kante performs that role at Chelsea and at Anfield it’s Firmino.
He is one of the few survivors from the pre-Klopp era and remained one of the first names on the team sheet since, even when the goals dried up.
He scored twice in Liverpool’s 4-2 win at Old Trafford last season, which should guarantee he gets the nod.
‘Everyone loves Bobby; the whole team. How could you not?’ says Klopp. ‘He is very positive and, at least with me, a very calm person.
‘Even if he was not a nice person, the midfielders would still love him because he is doing all the work for them.
Firmino has struck up a deadly partnership with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah in recent seasons
‘Obviously Mo and Sadio [Mane] love him because he passes them the ball; the last or second-to-last pass.
‘He chases the opposition players, sets traps. Our last line love him. He and Ali [goalkeeper Alisson] are best friends.’
Firmino’s famous smile is first on the scene whenever a colleague scores and the team celebrations take on an extra sense of fun when it’s him putting the ball in the net. ‘When he scores there is always this extra little bit of joy because there are always discussions outside the club of Bobby not scoring enough,’ explains Klopp.
‘We never have those inside the club. He wouldn’t play if he wasn’t incredibly important anyway.’
Klopp’s only win at Old Trafford came last season when it was an empty stadium.
But the ground will be jumping this time, particularly as a Liverpool title triumph this season would see them equal United’s all-time record of 20. In that sense, emerging from a frenzied atmosphere in Madrid with a win on Tuesday night will have been good practice for the visitors.
Klopp’s side beat Manchester United 4-2 at Old Trafford last season but it was with no fans
‘Sometimes I couldn’t even understand my thoughts it was that loud. It was absolutely incredible,’ admits Klopp. ‘The atmosphere is always a massive thing for United at Old Trafford — but it’s all about the game as well.
‘Obviously our job is to be really good there. To play the best-possible football we can and ignore or even use the crowd.
‘Our away fans will be there as well. I will never moan about having to play an away game at Old Trafford.’ Klopp is well aware that for all United’s inconsistency, they have firepower to hurt anyone. It is not just Ronaldo but Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood as well, though the Liverpool manager did suggest there is not enough room for all of them.
‘Jadon Sancho is a world-class talent, definitely, and he has all the things you need to become really one of the best players in the world in the future.
The Liverpool manager offered some words of encouragement to United winger Jadon Sancho
‘But he’s still very young,’ adds Klopp, who used to manage Sancho’s former club Borussia Dortmund.
‘At Dortmund they were full of praise about him, rightly so. I saw a lot of games of him playing outstandingly well.
‘Don’t forget the options United have in his position, people lose patience a little bit quick. Mason Greenwood, wow what a talent he is.
‘Mason can play in the centre but there is no space any more, so maybe they will share. It’s a problem you want as a manager, 100 per cent.
‘So everything will be fine for Jadon — we just hope not on Sunday.’