Roberto Firmino will be key to Liverpool’s chances of progressing past their Champions League qualifying round play-off, according to Jason McAteer.
Last Friday’s Champions League draw saw Liverpool drawn to play German side Hoffenheim in their qualifying round play-off double header that kicks off on August 15th.
The occasions marks a potential return to Champions League football for the club after a two-year absence but for one player, in particular, it’s an even more special occasion.
Liverpool’s no.9 Roberto Firmino was signed from the German club for £29.5m back in the summer of 2015 and has blossomed into one of the club’s most important players since.
Former Red Jason McAteer was on hand to see Firmino’s talents up-close-and-personal when the club travelled down under to play a friendly against Sydney FC at the back end of May and believes he could be Klopp’s ace in the hole when the Reds travel to Rhein-Neckar-Arena next Tuesday.
“I think he relishes playing against anyone, doesn’t he? I think he’s really come into his own – certainly towards the end of last season, I thought he was phenomenal,” McAteer told Liverpoolfc.com.
“I think his link-up play with Coutinho is fantastic, they’ve got a great understanding and now with Mané and Salah in that frontline as well, it really whets the appetite.
“Playing in that central role, he shifts left, he shifts right, he’s got goals, he’s got assists in his locker. I saw him at close hand and just seeing the way he interacts with the other players – he’s well respected.
“I had a cup of coffee with Steven Gerrard and he couldn’t speak highly enough of him and I totally understand where Steven’s coming from. He’s an integral part of the team.”
McAteer was not worried that the Brazilian may be overwhelmed emotionally by the occasion of visiting his former club in a battle for Champions League football, believing it’ll be a “nice” experience for the forward.
“(He’ll be) slightly excited. Apart from going back to Anfield – I found that very difficult when I was at other football clubs – I liked going back to places I’d played at before,” he explained.
“I think as a player sometimes you can sign for a club having not really said goodbye. Behind the scenes, you make a lot of friends, so it’ll be nice for him to go back and see them again.
“I’m sure he’ll get a great reception from the Hoffenheim fans. German fans are great and I’m sure there’s no qualms about him leaving Hoffenheim for Liverpool, so it’s not one of them where he’s going back and the fans are going to dislike him.
“I’m sure they’ll give him a good reception and he’ll enjoy that but he’s in great form at the minute and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets a couple of goals against his old club.”