A catastrophic run of injuries with captain Jordan Henderson’s damaged groin the latest hammer blow has ripped the heart and the spine out of Jurgen Klopp’s title defence.
Having to field 18 different centre-back pairings since September is unheard of. Liverpool won the Champions League and the Premier League with either Joel Matip or Joe Gomez alongside Virgil van Dijk at the back, and with Henderson and Fabinho in midfield. All are sidelined. It’s not rocket science.
But the issues for Klopp certainly run deeper than the personnel he’s currently without ,not least what has happened to the focal point of his attack. Liverpool have looked horribly blunt this campaign and Firmino’s form is concerning.
There have been occasional flashes of brilliance from him this season. The assists for Mohamed Salah in the defeats to Manchester United and Leicester City, the goals home and away to Tottenham, and the role he played in the demolition of Crystal Palace in December.
But the influence of Liverpool’s No 9 has dwindled and a return of just six goals in 35 appearances in all competitions this season can’t be ignored. He has netted just once in his last 14 matches.
After achieving a career-high 27 goals in 2017-18, Firmino’s tally dipped to 16 in 2018-19 and down to 12 last season. His expected goals (xG) tally in the Premier League last season was 13.96 and he managed nine. This time around, his xG is 9.07 and he’s only scored six times.
His all-round contribution has always been highlighted and the manner in which he leads the press and creates space for others to exploit. “Bobby plays like 12 instruments in our orchestra and is very important for our rhythm,” insisted his manager earlier this season.
Firmino’s place in the side was the subject of much debate earlier in the season following the impact of Diogo Jota and it will be once again, with the Portugal international set to return from a knee injury in the coming weeks. The lack of firepower in the absence of Jota has been glaring.
Liverpool haven’t scored in open play at Anfield since Sadio Mane converted Matip’s pass against West Bromwich Albion on December 27. They have played 528 minutes on home turf since nearly nine hours of football and only have Salah’s penalty against Manchester City to show for their efforts.
Fatigue has to be a factor with Firmino, who turns 30 in October. He hasn’t missed a Premier League or Champions League game all season. He’s played 279 games for Liverpool across five and half years, with international commitments on top. That’s a lot of miles on the clock.
Origi has to be moved on this summer and Liverpool have to buy a striker. Yes, they’ve got Jota but he’s not a centre-forward. They need someone capable of running in behind and getting on the end of crosses. They need an injection of quality and pace through the middle. They need a goalscorer. They also need the owners to show ambition and back the manager in the transfer market.
Klopp has already built one great Liverpool team but if more success is going to follow, he will need to start constructing a second one. One of the biggest challenges facing him will be deciding when the time is right to move on cherished names whose best days are behind them.
Roberto Firmino is an Anfield legend but his powers have waned. Whether it’s to replace him or just to give him a breather at times, Liverpool need to buy a new No 9.