Firmino leads Liverpool’s high-tempo title charge
Liverpool resumes their Premier League title charge at Aston Villa on Saturday with Jurgen Klopp hoping to avoid a repeat of the defensive mayhem that nearly wrecked their dramatic League Cup win against Arsenal.
Klopp played a reserve side for the fourth round tie on Wednesday, featuring a number of emerging stars, and saw them advance via a penalty shoot-out having twice overcome two-goal deficits to draw 5-5 in 90 minutes.
Liverpool conceded as many goals in one cup game as they have all season at Anfield in the Premier League so, while it was a memorable evening, Klopp will be banking on his regular defence returning to their miserly ways at Villa Park.
Klopp’s system is based on defending from the front and launching a devastating press whenever the opposition is in possession.
It is an approach that carried Liverpool to Champions League glory last season and has put them in pole position to win the title this term.
Klopp’s high-tempo game-plan also makes the most of the abilities of Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino.
The 28-year-old has scored just three league goals in 10 appearances this season, below his normal productivity rate.
While Firmino’s goal record may have come under scrutiny outside Anfield, within the club his status and reputation appear to be rising with every passing month.
Experts have described Firmino as the best player in the world at what he does: implementing Klopp’s complicated, but hugely successful, tactical, pressing system.
By comparison, Xherdan Shaqiri has been with Liverpool for nearly 18 months and is still not trusted by Klopp, in big games at least, because of his inability to carry out precise and demanding instructions.
The Liverpool manager requires his forwards when out of possession, to constantly close down angles to prevent opposition defences passing the ball forward.
Many strikers may not have the discipline or worth ethic to carry out those demands, but Firmino and teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane fit Klopp’s identikit striker.
The pressure on Firmino to score goals is far less given the outrageous productivity of his two colleagues.
Salah and Mane both scored 22 goals in the Premier League last season and have five apiece in the league to date – figures that reduce the need on Firmino to score.
Speaking earlier this season about the durability of his three front-line strikers, Klopp did not hold back in talking about Firmino’s worth and durability.
“Hopefully it stays like this, him hardly missing a game,” Klopp said. “He missed a few and that was not too cool, but Bobby – what can I say about him that not everybody knows already?
“He’s an incredibly important player. He enjoys it so much to play in this team, to be really there with all these super guys around him.
“That’s what helps him then, of course: if you have the speed around you, you can be this little cheeky guy in between the lines, being there and scoring the goals. Yeah, he’s a very valuable player for us.”
On occasions when Firmino has been unavailable, Klopp has paid him the compliment of not putting his direct replacement into the pivotal central position in the front three.
Sometimes, Georginio Wijnaldum midfielder has been placed at the middle of the trio, a reflection of the defensive responsibility Firmino is usually asked to bear.
For Villa Park, Klopp has no new injury concerns although Naby Keita limped out of the Arsenal cup win with a calf injury.