Any discussion over Liverpool’s two best players will likely produce two names more than any others.
Indeed, Mohamed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk aren’t just among the best at Anfield, but the best in Europe, with the two players setting a new precedent, albeit in different ways, over the past couple seasons.
Ask Jurgen Klopp who his team’s most players important is, though, and you’ll probably get a different answer.
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It was in the immediate fallout of Philippe Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona last season that the German coach underlined the importance of Roberto Firmino and how his Liverpool team depended on his role.
“He became a different player here,” Klopp explained. “Other teams can say: ‘Hmmm, he’s really good’ but it is not sure they will play the same way and use him as a nine or a 10 or they’ll use him out on the wings.”
Indeed, Firmino is perhaps the greatest manifestation of Klopp’s philosophy as a coach, certainly of his work as Liverpool manager. Not a number nine in the traditional sense, the 27-year-old is integral to the way the Reds use space in the final third of the pitch.
Without Firmino, Sadio Mane and Salah wouldn’t have enjoyed their success of the past two years.
Paris Saint-Germain’s apparent interest in Firmino should come as no surprise, then. The Brazilian would be a perfect fit for their frontline, holding the potential to get the best out of the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar just as he has Mane and Salah. Even if Neymar leaves Parc des Princes this summer, Firmino would make an excellent replacement.
The offer from PSG could be tempting, especially if Real Madrid empty their pockets for Neymar.
Allowing Firmino to leave Anfield at this time, however, would rip the heart out of this Liverpool side in much the same way Luis Suarez’s exit in 2014 did.
No matter the price, Klopp simply cannot allow the club to sell the Brazilian.
There’s a temptation to use the past few weeks, during which Liverpool have impressively maintained their form without Firmino in the team, as evidence that they can do without the Brazilian. However, all measures taken to mitigate the loss of Firmino have been decidedly temporary.
Against Wolves on the final day of the Premier League season, for instance, Klopp instructed his full backs to sling crosses into the opposition as frequently as possible, playing to Divock Origi’s strengths as a frontman. It was a similar story against Newcastle United, when the Belgian managed to flick a header home late on from a whipped cross into the area.
Would this really represent an ideological progression in the long term, though?
Liverpool find themselves at a critical juncture of their development under Klopp. The Reds have mounted title challenges before, most notably under Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers, but in each case they fell away just as quickly as they rose. Their challenge was all too fleeting.
That can’t be allowed to happen this time. Liverpool must pick up where they left off next season.
They must be relentless their pursuit of a first Premier League title. The Anfield outfit can’t sit around and wait for the trophy to land on their lap. They tried that for the best part of three decades to no avail.
This will require more investment. Liverpool have spent over £300 million in the past two seasons, but there remains holes in their squad. To catch Manchester City, they must plug them with elite quality, just as they did with Alisson Becker and Virgil Van Dijk.
But, this would only be undermined if Liverpool were to sell their best and most important players, of which Firmino certainly counts.Find the latest football odds over at paddypower.com