“You don’t win anything with a team of James Milners.”
Graeme Souness’ comments have aged badly, given Milner’s trophy cabinet now boasts two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, League Cup and the Community Shield.
But the head of Paul Pogba’s fan club wasn’t necessarily digging out Milner’s ability, more his Jack of all trades, master of none perception.
In football’s beautiful way of coming full circle, Milner’s next league title way well come playing alongside one of the greatest Swiss Army Knife’s to grace the Premier League- Roberto Firmino.
Cast your minds back to the summer of 2015, when Brendan Rodgers made Firmino the second-most expensive signing in Liverpool’s history.
Spending £29million on a 23-year-old converted midfielder from Hoffenheim who’d only netted double figures once in his career was undoubtedly a gamble.
Four seasons on, Firmino has established himself as one of Europe’s premiere no.9s. Not just that, he’s one of Europe’s best no.10s.
If you played Firmino at right-back, he’d probably be one of the best right-backs in world football.
There are more prolific strikers out there. There are quicker and stronger strikers. But there’s not a single striker in world football right now who’s better suited to Liverpool’s front three.
A £29mil gamble turned into a buy one, get one free bargain. No wonder Firmino and Jurgen Klopp are always showing off their matching pearly whites.
Firmino played off the left against Man United, floating in the pockets of uncertainty between Diego Dalot and Matteo Darmian to the extent that Jose Mourinho changed his tactics at half-time.
His 101 touches of the ball was bettered only by the effervescent Georginio Wijnaldum’s 105. But the Brazilian’s dominance didn’t stop there.
No player had more shots on goal. Indeed, Firmino’s nine shots were three more than United managed in total. Only Wijnaldum and Andy Robertson played more passes on either side.
Naby Keita was the only Liverpool player to dribble the ball more. Dejan Lovren was the only Liverpool player to make more clearances. No Liverpool player made more blocks. No one won more aerial duels.
Then there’s the work that the stats don’t measure. The runs to open up channels. The harrying of the opposition defence.
All his work is done with an intriguing mix of Brazilian flair and the type of grit that makes Sam Allardyce bring you to wherever he’s just moved. One minute he’s nutmegging you, the next he’s beating you to a 60/40.
To label Firmino a ‘utility player’ feels like doing the 27-year-old a disservice. But there’s nothing he can’t, or won’t, do for his side.
An injury to Mohamed Salah would be a hammer blow to Liverpool’s title chances. An injury to Firmino would all but end them.
You won’t lose anything with a team of Roberto Firminos.
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