Player Review: Roberto Firmino - Better without Coutinho?

Jack Hallows reviews Roberto Firmino’s 2017/18 campaign, documenting a brilliant season for the Brazilian on both a personal and collective note. 

Ever since I got the chance to attend my first Liverpool game in January 2015, Roberto Firmino has been my favourite player. The Brazilian scored two goals that day as Liverpool came back from 3-1 down to beat Norwich 5-4 on their own turf and his close control, dribbling, passing and sheer confidence were incredible to witness up close.

Since that day, Firmino has only gone from strength to strength in his game, eventually evolving into the bright smiling, karate kicking goalscorer we know and love today.

‘Bobby’ started the 2017/18 campaign like a house on fire, managing three goals and assists in his first five appearances of the season and making it four goals, three assists in seven by the time the final whistle blew in Liverpool’s opening Champions League game at home to Sevilla.

Aside from a tough period from mid-September to late-November in which ‘Bobby’ managed just three goals and took a little time to build his connection with Salah, this season has been one to remember for the Brazilian.

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There were reservations over Liverpool’s decision not to buy a centre forward from some corners of the fanbase last summer, citing the fact that despite his intelligence, skill and ability to knit attacking plays together, Firmino simply wasn’t scoring enough goals.

The feeling was that if Liverpool were to challenge for a second consecutive top-four finish and progress in the Champions League, they would need a “20+ goal-a-season” striker to lead the line.

Incredibly, they ended the season with three players hitting the 20 mark with Firmino personally finishing with 43 goal contributions in 54 appearances across all competitions, split between 27 goals and 16 assists.

His 10 Champions League goals in the competition proper came in just 11 games – a record fast time to hit the double figure mark in the competition shared with Sadio Mané and Adriano – while his 15 Premier League goals was a number bettered by just six players this season.

Impressively, Firmino also put to bed the notion that he previously relied heavily on countryman Philippe Coutinho if he was to play his best football consistently. However, after Coutinho exited to Barcelona in January, Firmino seemed determined to put this theory to bed and his game simply shot up another gear.

The Brazilian began with a stellar goal and assist performance against Manchester City, contributing heavily to Guardiola’s first league defeat of the season and from that point on never looked back.

10 goals and seven assists in his final 21 starts of the season showcased his improved end-product while on the pitch, his seemingly telepathic understanding with Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah was breathtaking at times.

The best part about all of it was that while Firmino looked to be improving his play as a centre-forward, there was still nothing ‘typical’ seeping into his game.

His scoring rate improved all while he maintained a stellar work rate, dropping deep and winning the ball back when required, pressing the opposition back line ruthlessly and setting up goals just as easily as he was scoring them – he won my choice for assist of the season with that back-heel against Southampton in February.

This season has to be seen as a complete and utter success for Firmino who, not only posted the best numbers of his career to date but also played some of the best football I’ve seen from a Premier League forward in recent memory.

Oh, and those celebrations weren’t bad either!

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