Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admits Roberto Firmino is the player he needs to pull everything together.
The Brazil international has been well short of his best form this year and his goal in Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Leicester was only his sixth in the whole of 2020, while Klopp boasts the free-scoring trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota.
Though goals have never been the main statistic on which Firmino is judged, he has been struggling with his all-round game but Klopp has a long memory and even deeper faith in his go-to players.
Heading into the Champions League Group D encounter at home to Atalanta – in which victory will secure qualification with two matches to spare – Firmino has featured in all-but one of Liverpool’s 53 European matches under Klopp, the only one he has missed through injury arguably being their greatest with the second leg semi-final comeback against Barcelona in 2019.
Firmino also holds the single-season club record for most goals scored in a European group stage with six, although that is under threat from Jota who already had four from his first two appearances.
And while Sunday’s goal was a huge boost Klopp sees a bigger picture for the striker who has started all nine Premier League games this season.
“Scoring was always important for Bobby but Bobby is a complete footballer,” he said.
“A football team is like an orchestra, you have different people for different instruments, and some of them are louder than others, but they are all important for the rhythm.
“Bobby plays like 12 instruments in our orchestra. He’s very important for our rhythm.
“We can play well without him as well, but I certainly want him on the pitch and if you look at the numbers, I like it a lot having him on the pitch. Really awesome.
“I’m not concerned about anything with Bobby, but I know from time to time it happens that he scores a goal.
“This goal was very important, and what I loved most was the reaction of the boys. You saw the celebration, it was really emotional.
“Obviously the players read newspapers, unfortunately, and they saw there was some criticism, so they were really happy for him to score.”
Liverpool will welcome back Mohamed Salah after he tested negative for Covid-19 following two positives on international duty with Egypt but Klopp is waiting to find out whether he will have the likes of Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alacantara and Xherdan Shaqiri available with Naby Keita the latest to join the injury list.
Three points against Atalanta would guarantee progress to the knockout phase and offer Klopp the chance to rest the players he does have fit.
“It’s all on the table, it’s clear that if we win them some problems will be sorted,” said the manager.
“But we have to play, be ready to work really hard against them. This man-marking system is really difficult to play, that’s why they were so successful in the past years.”
No extra defensive work
Klopp will be encouraged by the fact his side have kept four clean sheets in their last seven matches and have yet to concede a goal in three European games this season.
That is against the backdrop of being without three of his first-choice defence with Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold injured and the Reds boss paid tribute to how their replacements have stepped up by taking personal responsibility.
“When could we do extra work? There’s no time. Thank God I have a pretty smart team. Our work is done in a meeting room and not on the football pitch, to be honest,” he said.
“How the boys did it is exceptional – different line-ups, different pairings, but now we have to keep doing it like this, or even better.
“The changes we have to make, we will make, the boys will have to adapt to each other, to different line-ups.
“But not all of it is born on the training pitch, because the schedule doesn’t give us time to work on it.”