Monday 10 December 2018

Firmino wants to join Europe's elite

Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have formed one of the deadliest partnerships in Europe this season Photo: Getty
Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have formed one of the deadliest partnerships in Europe this season Photo: Getty

Chris Bascombe

Roberto Firmino has emerged as one of the Champions League's most revered and prolific strikers this season. Now Liverpool's Brazilian maestro not only wants to consolidate his position as a No 9 to be feared, but also to ensure Philippe Coutinho's departure casts no shadow over his club's European ambitions.

Firmino has struck seven goals in Europe this season, six in the group stage of the Champions League. Only Cristiano Ronaldo scored more in the group stages, with the Liverpool striker matching Neymar, Harry Kane and Edinson Cavani.

Encouragingly for Liverpool ahead of their round-of-16 tie in Porto tonight, the combination of Firmino and Mohamed Salah (11) is second only to Paris St-Germain pairing Neymar and Cavani (12) at the top of the goalscoring lists.

Firmino is enjoying the acclaim and responsibility of his growing status. "I am trying to give my maximum for the team and trying to be alongside these great players in Europe," he said in a press conference at Estadio do Dragao.

"Of course I want to be at their level, but I only focus on playing a good game. If I play a good game then the goals will appear."

There is a caveat, of course. Much of this success was achieved alongside Coutinho, who is no longer around to add to his five-goal tally in this year's competition (he scored a Liverpool hat-trick in the last group game). The onus has shifted to the rest of the attack and Firmino has responded.

Perform

"Coutinho is a great player and, of course, when he left that put a greater responsibility on everyone else to perform without him," he said. "But it is our job to deal with greater responsibility and I think we have done that so far.

"I'm going to do what I can to help [Salah] score goals and to help all the team. I also want to help myself to make a good season.

"I don't know if Porto are going to be afraid, but we are going to make their life difficult and make them suffer."

Klopp believes Coutinho's absence has enabled Firmino to earn more credit, rather than find more form, arguing he has been consistently good for the last three years.

"I don't think he has stepped up but maybe it is more obvious because his situations are not overshadowed by Phil Coutinho's situations. That's how it is. That is all," said Klopp.

"He's a very important player and he doesn't always have to be the standout player. As often as he can be, that's good. I don't think he is underrated, not anymore. I don't know what other people think about Roberto. I can imagine a bit because you ask me about it. I have no idea. People with a football brain judge him right. That's how it is.

"We qualified for the Champions League without Phil, he was not involved in either of the Hoffenheim games. All the players we have here are fantastic, it's about how we stick to the way we want to play. You have to cause them problems, problems and problems."

Liverpool are in the last 16 for the first time in nine years, and their European pedigree is such they are dark horses to go all the way.

Klopp says he fears none of the remaining sides. "I know it already, I don't need to look at them," he said. "Probably the strongest team in Europe at the minute is Manchester City.

"We've played them twice and that's the highest level. PSG is a little bit different but I don't look at them, I know it already that, if we meet them, we could beat them.

"We are here in Porto, that's the only thing. We can make one big mistake in life - of course, we as a team would never do that - but I know when the draw came out it was like: 'Thank God, Porto'. Now it's Porto and it's quite a hurdle we have to go over. It's interesting. It will be a special atmosphere as well and I'm really looking forward to it. Now we have to show we don't only want to be part of the competition, we are quite ambitious."

Inevitably, Klopp was asked if Liverpool can repeat the improbable Champions League win of 2005. He was cautious. "I don't think the 2005 side thought about winning the Champions League before the last 16," he said.

"I'll ask Rafa but that would surprise me because it makes no sense. If we are in the final then I'll say we will try to win, but that is too far off.

"I don't like talking about the round after the round you are playing. In fact, I hate it. I only answer nicely now because I am friendly and we are in public but, if someone asked me about the round after the round in private, I would leave the room."

Klopp confirmed he will abandon his goalkeeper rotation policy in Europe, with Loris Karius retaining his place.

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