'He is coming out of his shell again' - John Aldridge believes Liverpool's missing link is finding his form at last
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Liverpool goal scoring great John Aldridge believes the most significant development in the Premier League title race last weekend was not Manchester City's first defeat of the season at Chelsea on Saturday.
Instead, Aldridge suggests the return to form of Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino after his sparkling performance in a 4-0 win at Bournemouth could allow Jurgen Klopp's side to move into top form ahead of a crucial week in their season.
Premier League leaders Liverpool need to beat Napoli in the Champions League at Anfield on Tuesday night to secure progress to the last-16 of that competition, before they welcome Manchester United to their home next Sunday and Aldridge is hoping they may be about to rediscover their most dynamic attacking form after Firmino sprang into form after a slow start to the campaign.
"Mohamed Salah got all the plaudits after his hat-hat-trick at Bournemouth, but the 4-0 victory was even more significant for one of his attacking sidekicks," states Aldridge.
"I have been critical of Roberto Firmino in recent weeks and his form has been poor, but the Brazilian looked like he was getting back to somewhere near his best at the Vitality Stadium and that could be massive for Liverpool as they head into Tuesday night’s Champions League showdown with Napoli.
"Firmino is a player who doesn’t always stand out, but his movement and passing is crucial to Liverpool’s attacking plan and his woeful form in the opening third of the season has affected the fluidity in the forward line.
"Now it seems like he is coming out of his shell again, and not before time. His passing looked crisp once again at Bournemouth, he didn’t give the ball away as he has time far too often this season and he seemed to have his spark back.
"After scoring a vital goal at Burnley last Wednesday, we have seen the real Firmino in the last few days and look at the impact it had on Salah."
Aldridge is now hoping Liverpool continue their record breaking start to the season, as they look to capitalise on City's surprise defeat at Chelsea.
"Liverpool need to ensure they don’t allow the optimism they have built up to be derailed in the vital Champions League game against Napoli at Anfield on Tuesday," he added.
"They have made life difficult for themselves with three poor away performances in Europe this season and have been punished each time with defeats, but they have a chance to put that right with a 1-0 win or a victory by two clear goals against Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli.
"Keeping a clean sheet will be vital and there will be lots of nerves in the air for a game that means so much to both teams, but I’m confident this Liverpool team can beat anyone when they are at their best and they need to confirm that when Napoli step into the Anfield cauldron.
"It will be another one of those occasions that will make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up and most teams crumble in that atmosphere. Let's hope Napoli do the same on Tuesday night."