Neil Humphreys: Roberto Firmino's in a league of his own
Underrated Brazilian helps record-breaking Liverpool soar
As Liverpool's hypnotic swagger towards the English Premier League title continues, there is a surreal comparison worth making.
Juergen Klopp is the director Martin Scorsese. Roberto Firmino is reclusive actor Joe Pesci and The Irishman might as well be the Reds' pursuit of the title, a masterpiece that was years in the making.
For anyone not familiar with the cinematic gem on Netflix, Scorsese spent a decade persuading Pesci to play the less showy third lead in the movie.
Other actors were available, but the greatest American director of his generation knew that Pesci made those around him better. He lifted Robert De Niro and Al Pacino's game.
He was the missing piece in the masterpiece. Klopp feels the same way about Firmino.
A 76-year-old from New Jersey and a gregarious 28-year-old Brazilian striker have nothing in common except their rare ability to elevate the ensemble.
Take Pesci out of the picture and De Niro and Pacino are old men with slightly dodgy de-ageing effects and The Irishman does not get nominated for a load of awards.
Take Firmino out of the Tottenham Hotspur game yesterday morning (Singapore time) and Liverpool don't win.
Like Pesci, Firmino is the artist's artist, occasionally underrated by the casual viewer but never unappreciated within his industry.
His goal in the 1-0 win over Spurs was his ninth of the season.
But the stats not only do him a disservice, they are almost distasteful, like asking how many ceilings Michelangelo painted or, indeed, how many movies Pesci made with Scorsese.
Such crass number crunching devalues Firmino's class, so let's at least crunch a number that has greater relevance.
Five of those goals were match-winners. He scored in the semi-final and the final of the Club World Cup.
He is not merely a big-game Charlie. He's a big-game liberator.
But again, just like Pesci - this analogy is getting some serious mileage now - he's not a scene-stealer out to serve his own interests. He is committed to the collective, which makes his position difficult to nail down.
The No.9 on his jersey reads like a campaign for injustice.
It's not a fair reflection of his workload.
His balletic winner against Spurs, spinning one way and shooting towards the other in one fluid movement, was not the kind of finish typically associated with a big lump up front.
Poaching goals seems almost beneath Firmino's skill set, so much so that it became a minor concern before Christmas.
Klopp admitted that he had discussed the mini-drought with his maverick before the Club World Cup.
At the time, the Brazilian had scored once in 16 games.
He now has five in six, but it is equally important to note that Klopp never entertained the idea of dropping his attacking emollient.
Firmino acts like a gentle balm for the frenetic Mohamed Salah and the slick Sadio Mane, joining their diverse qualities together to create an unbreakable bond.
Salah and Mane are special. With Firmino in the middle, they're unbeatable.
Klopp's loose 4-3-3 puts tremendous emphasis on his fullbacks, which often requires Firmino to fill the gaps.
And Liverpool's relentless speed creates so many gaps.
He drops deep to collect possession from Jordan Henderson. He nips forward to swop passes with Mane and Salah.
He will collect incisive, slipped balls from Georginio Wijnaldum and trap those long, sweeping works of art from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
He's a one-man bingo game.
Just contrast his peerless efforts with Christian Eriksen.
At times, their positions, runs and responsibilities overlapped at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But that was the extent of the similarities.
Eriksen's hopes of a dream move fade with every nightmarish outing. Mostly anonymous and deservingly substituted, Tottenham's wilting midfielder could only glance across at the effervescent Brazilian and check his ego at the touchline.
Firmino was as inspired as Eriksen was insipid, a testament to both Klopp's incomparable powers of motivation and the forward's selfless work ethic.
He has no interest in publicity, only the end product. In this regard, Firmino really is Pesci.
To finish the dogged analogy with a flourish, a Google search for Pesci threw up headlines that hailed the "restrained genius" and "unreasonable brilliance" of the actor. That's Pesci in one movie. That's Firmino almost every week.
Others can make more noise, but they can't deliver such quietly devastating performances.