Liverpool’s relentless march towards a first English championship since 1990 continued unabated this afternoon at Anfield, with Southampton the latest to feel their wrath.
Jurgen Klopp’s runaway Premier League leaders, who temporarily extend their lead to an unbelievable 22 points, made it count in the second half – after a tentative opening 45 minutes – through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah (brace) to record a comprehensive 4-0 win.
The opening two goals were indebted to Roberto Firmino, the oft-forgotten member of their ‘fab three’ attack, but what the Brazilian offers in both disciplines of the game is something his teammates and manager greatly appreciate.
It’s not only in the red half of Merseyside where Firmino has received plaudits. Earlier this season, Gary Neville would dub him the league’s best striker, albeit one who plays more like a false nine where he’s given the licence to drift either out wide or drop into midfield.
Only two players have recorded 3+ assists in a Premier League game this season:
🔘 Lys Mousset (vs. Burnley)
🔘 Roberto Firmino (vs. Soton)
A hat-trick of assists for Bobby. 🔴 pic.twitter.com/fHvrM5oXzX
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 1, 2020
Today was no exception. While leading the line, Firmino was also pulling the strings. No one created more goalscoring opportunities than him (4).In fact, to date only Sadio Mane (39) has created more chances from open play than Liverpool’s ‘number nine’ (37). His third assist, for Salah’s second of the game, saw him become only the second player this season – after Sheffield United forward Lys Mousset against Burnley – to register a hat-trick of assists.
In terms of where Bobby stands in the Premier League’s all-time table (34 assists), he’s level with Patrick Vieira – and the ‘Invincible’ tag is another thing Firmino could very well have in common with the Arsenal legend once this season is over – and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Roberto Firmino now has as many PL assists as Cristiano Ronaldo and Steve Guppy
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) February 1, 2020
Worth noting is that the five-time Ballon d’Or recipient wasn’t renowned for creating goals. But if you look up ‘selflessness’ in the dictionary, Firmino’s picture would most likely stare right back. He’s perfect in the system Klopp has forged and more than anyone embodies the slick collective spirit of this current side. Much like Klopp did at Dortmund, there’s no real dependency on one or two players.
This team, in every sense of the word, sees the individual and collectivism intertwined. Each individual’s strength combine to make a strong eleven: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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It’s no accident. Klopp’s unit is not built around a marquee name. Rather, every player under him contributes. Take the role of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came in for the injured Sadio Mane today. He’s now scored seven times across his last seven starts for Liverpool while playing in various roles. Being a versatile footballer helps, but if anything, the system Oxlade-Chamberlain walks into ensures there’s no time to waste.
From the get-go, he was at the races. But overall we must take a step back and marvel at what Klopp has again developed (the first time in Germany); the comfortable equilibrium in transition between attack and defence is outstanding.
Mentality Monsters 💪💪💪 pic.twitter.com/9bwUe8NJOY
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 1, 2020
Football is a team sport. We must never forget that. With a great striker, you don’t become a champion. You must do it all together. Salah’s brace means he’s now the joint third leading Premier League scorer this season. After him, there’s only Mane in the top 10. Firmino — rightfully exalted for today’s performance — has yet to register a single home goal in 2019/20.
Sharing the burden is another characteristic of a well-oiled machine. Klopp’s biggest achievement, though, is getting his players to buy into his approach without taking away their individuality. His vision is extremely clear and has the gift of keeping everyone content, whether they’re on the bench or playing. He’s not a totalitarian but isn’t afraid to crack the whip. A well-deserved crown beckons, but don’t expect him to take all the credit. That’s never been his style.