Red Letter: Character and Firmino cause for optimism

Date published: Thursday 14th January 2016 7:03

Roberto Firmino: Cause for optimism for Liverpool fans

In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall reflects on the thrilling draw with Arsenal, the growing impact of Roberto Firmino and Christian ‘Plan B’ Benteke.

Liverpool 3 Arsenal 3. I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve seen at Anfield in a long time.

True, the order of events helped. Had our latest set-piece calamity been the goal that gifted the Gunners a late equaliser, I’d no doubt have been fuming at the finish. Instead, I was still feeling a rush of adrenalin at full-time after Joe Allen’s last-gasp equaliser.

Just before kick-off, I tweeted out a thought that had been growing in my mind in the build-up.

Although some aren’t unconvinced by Roberto Firmino, I think it’s pretty obvious he has an extra touch of class. We’ve only seen it intermittently, but he’s been a tad unlucky so far, striking the woodwork with a couple of screamers (home to West Ham and away to Sunderland).

At some point, it all looked due to click and, most likely, against a footballing side like Arsenal. It was no coincidence that his one previous goal had come in the 4-1 romp at Manchester City when he had more space to play and extra time on the ball.

So, risking abuse (and, boy, do I get some stick for expressing honest opinions), I posted my thoughts on Twitter.

He certainly did a fantastic job of making me look good as, with just 10 minutes gone, the Brazilian fired Liverpool in front after a silky touch and swivel.

Nine minutes later, after we’d blown our early lead and dominance by letting Arsenal back in, (Mignolet too slow to get down to his near post from Ramsey’s low shot), Firmino scored an absolute worldie and Liverpool fans everywhere were off their seats again.

This is the end product we need and hopefully he can now provide it on a regular basis. From 12 starts and six appearances off the bench, he’s banked three goals and three assists.  Not great, but the signs look hugely promising and it compares favourably to Adam Lallana (no goals and three assists). I really do want to like Lallana as he gallops around a lot and seems like a good bloke, but is the cutting edge really there?

Set-piece woes strike again

Our third goal provided much joy and pub discussion.

Firstly, well done to skipper Jordan Henderson for the accurate angled cross into the box. Secondly, credit to Christian Benteke for getting his head to it and nodding the ball into a danger area. Thirdly, woohoo and massive pats on the back to the, dare we say, rejuvenated Joe Allen for volleying home the equaliser.

Having bossed possession (60-40) against the side best known for doing it to other teams and fired in 22 shots to 14, the draw was fully, fully deserved.

That’s two draws out of two against would-be champions Arsenal and, to be honest, we could and should have won both. Ha, could and should…. Liverpool’s two bogeymen at the moment. That pesky pair just won’t stop sticking their oars in.

Talking of pesky pairs, what are Adam Bogdan and Simon Mignolet up to at corners? Take out Bogdan’s howler against Exeter and Mignolet’s incompetence against Arsenal and I could have been writing about two victories in the last six days rather than two rescue acts.

Why, oh, why at set-pieces do we cock the loaded gun and aim it at the nearest foot as opposed to firing it harmlessly into the air when we take our own free-kicks and corners. It’s beyond frustrating.

Positives building up for Liverpool

That said, through the confusion and ups and downs of this rollercoaster season, there are some definite positive themes starting to emerge.

Despite that ugly stat about 22 goals from our opening 20 games being LFC’s worst tally in the club’s history, Liverpool have now netted 10 goals in three games against last year’s top three – Chelsea (3), Man City (4) and Arsenal (3). All Firmino’s goals and assists came in those matches so big-name opposition brings out the best in him.

The other big plus is that Klopp has quickly reversed us from being a team who conceded late goals to one that scores them.

Roberto Firmino Jurgen Klopp

In the last seven games, we’ve bagged late equalisers against West Brom (injury-time), Exeter (73rd minute) and Arsenal (90th minute) while holding out for 1-0 wins against Leicester, Sunderland and Stoke.

Klopp’s will to win (or not lose) and infectious enthusiasm has spread throughout the team. There are many faults still to cure, but we’re certainly developing some character.

Benteke = Plan B

The Exeter game was just weird. It’s true that Klopp’s hand was pretty much forced and, although I’ve seen some of these lads on LFC TV and in highlights when on loan elsewhere, it was hard to feel that I was watching Liverpool play in an FA Cup match.

There were some promising signs – a few lovely touches from Joao Teixeira, Jerome Sinclair taking his goal well and Sheyi Ojo having an impact off the bench.

But one big issue at Exeter was the (non-)performance of Benteke. Here was his chance to bank some cheap goals and confidence but, far from being the game’s dominant force, he was on the periphery throughout.

It’s hardly a conspiracy theory to think that Klopp’s decision to play him alongside the kids at Exeter but drop him to the bench for the big one against Arsenal shows that our German boss just doesn’t fancy him.

My idea to get rid of him (see last week’s column), if, I repeat if, we could line up a high-class alternative was met with three different answers when reading through the comments on social media afterwards.

There were those who completely agreed, there were those who berated me and a third group who said he was an ideal Plan B.

Steven Caulker Christian Benteke

The Group 3ers had ‘told you so’ rights at Anfield on Wednesday night as Benteke did indeed prove the perfect Plan B after setting up the equaliser by doing what he does best.

But £32.5million for a Plan B? That’s an awful lot of money to spend on someone who is there to pump long balls to in times of trouble.

His inept performance against Exeter and the fizz we showed without him for most of the match against Arsenal only underlined my thoughts that Benteke just isn’t destined to be a significant player for us. And, for that money (not Benteke’s fault of course), that’s what I want having witnessed Dalglish, Rush (yes, I’m that old), Aldridge, Fowler, Owen, Torres, Suarez and Sturridge bang them in down the years.

Klopp was already dropping hints that he preferred Origi so Benteke may have some difficult times ahead.

That said, he did score a spectacular goal in the miserable 3-1 defeat at Manchester United earlier this season and I’d be thrilled if he came off the bench (that’s where I expect him to be as Klopp will surely go with a similar line-up to the Arsenal game) on Sunday afternoon.

A home game against Manchester United is ideal for preventing a dip after the high of a late equaliser against Arsenal, and a pumped up home crowd should provide the extra adrenalin our players will need after their busy schedule.

Our record against big teams under Klopp is cause for optimism so I’ll take Firmino to score again in a Liverpool win.

That will give LFC fans another glorious high before we follow it by sneaking past Exeter on penalties and losing at Norwich (unless we loan Suarez for the game) the week after.

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