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 By Dave Usher

Underappreciated Firmino looking more and more like a top centre-forward

Stewart Robson takes to the touchscreen to analyse Philippe Coutinho's dominant display in Liverpool's rout at Brighton.
Jurgen Klopp says that while Liverpool continue their fine form in the league, it's been anything but easy for his squad.
English Premier League: Roberto Firmino (48') Brighton 0-3 Liverpool
While Philippe Coutinho's future remains uncertain, it's no surprise he's one of Liverpool's most important players.
English Premier League: Roberto Firmino (32') Brighton 0-2 Liverpool

Philippe Coutinho's dazzling display at Brighton last weekend may have drawn most of the plaudits, but his compatriot Roberto Firmino was equally impressive during Liverpool's stylish 5-1 win.

Coutinho was a joy to watch with his magic feet and uncanny ability to glide away from would be tacklers, but Firmino scored twice, led the line brilliantly and relentlessly pressurised the Brighton defenders all day. Liverpool have not had a centre-forward perform as impressively as that since Luis Suarez departed in 2014. 

Comparisons between the two will not do Firmino any favours, as Suarez was an incredible player for Liverpool, but when the Brazilian plays like he did on Saturday it's hard to ignore the many obvious similarities.

Firmino has unfairly suffered at times because of the standards set by Suarez and other legendary Anfield strikers that preceded him. Suarez is truly world class whereas Firmino is merely aspiring to be. He may get there, he may not, but he's certainly been in fine form of late even if he has not always had the goals to show for it.

The former Hoffenheim man has often had to take a back seat while Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Coutinho have dominated the headlines, but he's now on a hot streak of his own with four goals in his last three games. It's encouraging for Liverpool that at the moment they are not relying on just one player to score their goals. 

Jurgen Klopp loves Firmino, his teammates love him too, and although the man affectionately known as "Bobby" is a popular figure with the fans there are still those who are not yet convinced he is the man to lead an attack that can contend for major honours.

Ask Liverpool supporters which positions they would most like to see strengthened and the unanimous verdict will be central defence and a specialist holding midfield player, but there would be plenty who feel the Reds need a more natural goalscorer than Firmino up top.

There was a time when the same was being said about Suarez. It sounds ridiculous now given how many goals the Uruguayan has scored in recent seasons, but in his first couple of years at Anfield he was far from prolific and missed a lot of chances. He was more of a Peter Beardsley than a John Aldridge, but by the time he left he was Aldridge, Beardsley and John Barnes all rolled into one.

Perhaps Firmino too will make a similar leap and become that "30 goal a season man" supporters crave? Time will tell, but even if he has already hit his ceiling he will continue to be a fixture in the lineup for as long as Klopp is manager.

The German has shown no inclination to replace Firmino and his faith is paying off as the "false nine" is beginning to look more and more like a genuine striker.

Roberto Firmino's goalscoring output this campaign is changing perceptions that he cannot become a top centre-forward.
Roberto Firmino's goalscoring output this campaign is changing perceptions that he cannot become a top centre-forward.

Having a striker who can score 30 goals would be nice of course, but not if it means losing what Firmino brings to the Liverpool attack. It's no use having one man scoring 30 if the output from the rest of the team drops significantly as a result. 

Besides, at his current rate Salah is on pace for 30 goals. Traditionally it is the centre-forward most likely to lead the way, but Salah and Mane are both capable of putting up centre-forward type numbers. Coutinho too has been in fine goalscoring form despite often playing in midfield.

When others are scoring freely there is less of a focus on Firmino. If a team isn't scoring enough the first person fans look to is usually the centre-forward and when the Reds were squandering chances and not scoring enough goals earlier in the season, Firmino came under intense scrutiny.

Since then, Mane has returned, Salah has continued to be a revelation and Coutinho has been a regular scorer too. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has even chipped in with a couple. All of this helps Firmino, not least because opponents are having to focus on others which leaves more space for him to operate in.

Harry Kane is out on his own with 16 goals in all competitions, but for all the talk of Firmino not being prolific enough he has found the net 11 times so far. That's only one less than Romelu Lukaku, the same as Sergio Aguero and one more than Alvaro Morata. Firmino, unsurprisingly, has more assists than all of the above.

He could easily have had another couple of goals to his name if he had been more selfish. One of Liverpool's seven goals in Maribor was credited to and claimed by Salah even though Firmino played the ball at the exact same time as the Egyptian. The goal could have gone to either but Firmino was happy to forego a hat trick and let his teammate have it. Then last week against Stoke, Firmino followed in an effort from Mane and could easily have knocked it over the line himself, but he didn't. 

Such selflessness will not help him boost his individual statistics but it is a big part of what makes him so valuable to his team and so appreciated by his manager. 

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.

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