Liverpool have once again been linked to signing Napoli centre back Kalidou Koulibaly.
Moving on from the previous instalment, which covered numbers ten to six on the list, I’ll be explaining each of my top five selections in more detail.
5. Roberto Firmino – £29 million from Hoffenheim in June 2015
Resembling the characteristics of a number nine, a number ten and at times a dogged defensive midfielder, Roberto Firmino’s role at Liverpool wasn’t completely understood when he was signed from Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim in 2015.
This became apparent when both Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp initially failed to get the best out of him. He was used out wide on the left and at attacking midfield without any real impact, scoring once in his first 17 appearances.
Perhaps there was even a hint of thought towards the Brazilian fitting into the unfortunate and unwanted bracket of Premier League flops.
Instead, Roberto Firmino has developed into an immovable member of the world’s most dangerous attacking trident.
Going back to his first season, Roberto Firmino ended up scoring 11 times in 49 appearances. Hardly the figures to set the Premier League alight, but he did make it flicker on occasion, notably with a stunning brace against Arsenal in January 2016. Jurgen Klopp liked what he saw, deploying Firmino in his now-familiar false nine role after the turn of the year, and began building the blueprint to make Liverpool a force once again.
The acquisition of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah saw Roberto Firmino’s influence and importance become crystal clear. The Brazilian became a smokescreen for the Golden Boot-winning pair, a feat that might not have been possible without a player of his level of intelligence, trickery and – most importantly – selflessness.
Detractors may point to a rather modest goal tally – the Brazilian has scored 70 goals in 216 Liverpool appearances. This is a fair criticism. But analysis of Firmino’s job in the Liverpool forward line allows for a deeper understanding of these underwhelming goal-scoring numbers.
Given freedom to roam as he chooses, Firmino’s penchant for dropping off the defensive line aims to lure the opposition towards him to free space for others. If opponents take the bait and track Firmino, his exceptional sense of awareness of other teammates allows him to escape pressure with quick one-two passing, while his crisp dribbling and balance means he’s usually able to twist and turn his way out of trouble.
Alternatively, when Firmino is allowed time on the ball, he has the playmaking qualities to punish the opposition, feeding Mane and Salah.
If there was a single moment or goal that encapsulates Firmino, it’s his effort against Manchester City on January 14, 2018. Unfazed by City’s undefeated Premier League stature, Liverpool bombarded them with wave after wave of attacks, which led to Liverpool regaining the lead on 59 minutes.
As Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drove unmarked into Manchester City’s half, Roberto Firmino peeled off the shoulder of John Stones. Oxlade-Chamberlain played a perfectly weighted pass in the direction of Firmino’s run, though Stones had seemingly done enough to read the ball and collect.
Firmino, not one to quit, legally shouldered Stones off the ball, creating just enough space to collect possession and face Ederson one-on-one. With Stones scrambling to apply pressure and the Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson charging off his line, Firmino exquisitely caressed the ball over his hapless international teammate.
Initial sight of the ball’s trajectory suggested a near miss, although the slight spin on the ball allowed a correction back towards the target after it bounced off the Anfield surface, kissing the post on its way in – just like he and all his teammates did with the Champions League trophy the following year.
It was a strike that displayed positional and situational awareness (making the run behind Stones once he saw Oxlade-Chamberlain free on the ball), strength and determination (shouldering Stones off the ball when it appeared as though the moment was gone), and ice-cool finishing (scoring in classy fashion under pressure from both the defender and the goalkeeper).
Roberto Firmino has grown into a capable finisher, hitting double figures in the Premier League in all four full seasons thus far, while his relentless pursuit in regaining possession was instrumental to the heavy metal counter-pressing we saw so often in the 2017/18 campaign.
Firmino made a whopping 65 successful tackles in the Premier League that season – the second highest at Liverpool and 28th in the league – while his Champions League contribution was his best extended spell in a Liverpool shirt, scoring 11 and assisting seven in 15 appearances.
The Brazilian is as complete a forward as you’ll find, possessing a range of qualities that makes him so valuable to Liverpool.
His goal-scoring figures don’t match the likes of Robbie Fowler, Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez. But for those of us who’ve been able to watch his Liverpool career blossom under Jurgen Klopp, goals aren’t the only reason he’s held in such esteem.