Firmino's flexibility makes Liverpool feared again
Emergence of Reds forward is timely for Brazil, with fitness doubts over Neymar and Jesus
Mohamed Salah has scored more goals, Sadio Mane may have more explosive pace, but Roberto Firmino is the glue that knits together a devastating Liverpool front three that is fast making the five-time European champions feared on the continent once more.
Liverpool go into tomorrow morning's Champions League last 16, second leg at home to Porto with the job already done, having inflicted the Portuguese giants' worst home European defeat in a 5-0 rout three weeks ago.
All of Liverpool's free-scoring forward trio were on target that night, as they have been for most of the season.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have a combined goal tally of 68 for Liverpool this season in all competitions.
NOT JUST A SCORER
Their combined tally now stands at 68, with Firmino's 22 already by a distance his best return for a single campaign since joining from Hoffenheim in 2015.
However, the Brazilian is much more than a striker who just scores goals. His pass for Mane to seal a 2-0 win over Newcastle last Saturday was also his 13th assist of the season.
Klopp, who recently praised Firmino for being "a world-class player every day", deserves credit for the Brazilian's evolution.
His technical ability as a former attacking midfielder allied to his athleticism has produced a fluidity in Liverpool's front three that is proving almost impossible to stop.
"With Mane, you have the pace and directness, with Firmino you have the touch, hold-up play and securing the ball, and then you have Salah who gives you a bit of both and delivers goals," Liverpool great Steven Gerrard told BT Sport.
"The blend is superb. There's no greed in the team, there's nobody who is selfish. They all pass the ball to each other."
Even better could come for Firmino at the end of the season with Brazil coach Tite a fan of his flexibility.
The 26-year-old has largely had to play a supporting role to Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho during Tite's short but successful reign in charge.
Firmino was practically unknown by fans in Brazil when he was first called into the national team in 2014 having left his native land for Hoffenheim when he was just 18, and still lacking some of the star power of his colleagues.
However, Neymar and Jesus have to overcome fitness concerns to be ready for Russia and Tite hasn't ruled out changing his system to accommodate Firmino.
"He is a 10 who learnt how to play a nine," said Tite of Firmino's evolution under Klopp.
"Brazil has lacked alternatives in previous World Cups and it cost us big.
NO ONE RESTED
"That's why I want to use Coutinho in midfield, Willian as winger, playing with Firmino and Jesus together.
"We must enter the competition with preparation for any situation."
Meanwhile, Klopp has insisted that he will not be resting players against Porto, despite a trip to Manchester United looming on Saturday.
"It's not about rest. Porto have won all their games since we played them," Klopp said.
"They will strike back, they are Portuguese and proud and will give a fight.
"I don't think for a second about resting anybody. I know it's United afterwards, but we cannot change it." - REUTERS, AFP