Football

Liverpool's game-changer Roberto Firmino earns praise from pundits

Brazilian widely feted after his heroics off the bench against Newcastle

Regularly in the shadow of strike partners Mohamed Salah, and increasingly Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino had the spotlight all to himself after his star turn in Liverpool's 3-1 come-from-behind win over Newcastle United on Saturday.

Having played for Brazil in midweek in Los Angeles, Firmino was rested from the start against the Magpies at Anfield, but he was required to come on to replace the injured Divock Origi in the first half.

He changed the game, providing the passes for Mane and Salah to score the Reds' second and third goals respectively.

Firmino has two goals and three assists in the English Premier League this season.

His pass to Salah, an impudent back-heel flick, had everyone gushing.

Teammate Andy Robertson called Firmino's vision "frightening", the EPL's all-time top scorer Alan Shearer called it "computer-game stuff", former England striker Michael Owen said the 27-year-old's "touch is off the charts" while Arsenal forward Ian Wright called it "genius".

In his four full seasons in England, Firmino has never scored more than 15 league goals, but Watford striker Troy Deeney is adamant that the Brazilian is the best No. 9 in a league that boasts Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Deeney said on Sky Sports: "I think he's probably the best No.9 in the league, personally.

"If you're a manager, you want someone who can close down the whole back four on his own, link play, come short - he scores goals and he gets assists.

"For me, he's the best around at the moment.

"You have to look at the two boys he's got either side of him, 20-plus goals each last season?

"He didn't have a bad season at any point, but when you have those two (Mane and Salah) overshadowing all the time, you kind of take away his importance.

"But I think when he's not in the team, you definitely see it. Massively."

The Englishman's comments come just a day after Liverpool and England right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold called Firmino "one of the best if not the best No. 9 in the world".

Responding to Alexander-Arnold's comments after the match, former England and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jermaine Jenas said on BT Sport: "Trent is right. Automatically, you'd go you'd swop him for (Lionel) Messi or (Cristiano) Ronaldo.

"When you break it down, for what he gives to Liverpool, there aren't many if any who are better than him.

"He is absolutely sublime. Over the years, he's earned the respect. He's earned the amount of space he gets.

"He's the difference. Mane and Salah don't have the magic to do what Firmino does in tight areas.

SPECIAL TRAIT

"He has a vacuum of bodies that comes towards him and he still knows where the space is to get out. It's a special trait that he has."

Former Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer seemed to agree, saying Firmino is in the tier just below Messi and Ronaldo.

He said on Liverpool's in-house broadcaster LFC TV: "All week we've been hearing people talk about Raheem Sterling in the bracket of Messi and Ronaldo.

"No one is in the bracket of Messi and Ronaldo because of the longevity (of what) they've been doing at the top level...

"You are then looking at the next bracket down.

"Is Raheem Sterling in the next bracket down? It's debatable.

"Firmino, for what he does, and there's no other player can do it, I would have him in the next bracket down.

"I think he is phenomenal, what he does.

"The stuff he does off the ball sometimes goes unnoticed."

What Firmino can do definitely does not go unnoticed by teammate Virgil van Dijk.

The Dutchman, who is widely considered to be the world's best defender, told BT Sport: "He is a very important player for all of us.

"I know how difficult it is for a defender when the striker drops his position and he is making life difficult for any defender in the world, I think.

"He is so good and I am very happy he is on my team."

Football