Jurgen Klopp moved to praise Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino‘s application in training and on the field after his arrest for drink-driving.
Firmino was pulled over by the police on Christmas Eve, and is set for a court date on January 31, the same day Liverpool play title rivals Chelsea in the Premier League.
This came as a major disappointment in the buildup to the Reds’ clash with Stoke City on Tuesday night, with speculation mounting as to whether the Brazilian would feature.
But Firmino kept his place in Klopp’s starting lineup, and scored his side’s second in a strong 4-1 victory.
It was something of a statement performance from Firmino, who cut a positive figure throughout, sharing smiles with Liverpool’s substitutes when replaced by Alberto Moreno with 12 minutes to play.
However, to Klopp, his position was never in doubt, with the German hailing his contribution on the training field over the Christmas period.
“No because he was, honestly, actually the best man in training,” he told reporters at Anfield, when asked if he had considered leaving Firmino out against the Potters.
“There was no chance to leave him out, no chance, he trained outstanding. So no, we didn’t think about it.”
Tuesday night’s goal was the 24-year-old’s first since taking over from the injured Philippe Coutinho on the left wing, with Firmino struggling for form in December.
And speaking to Sky Sports, Klopp said that Firmino “deserved” it, responding to a tough run in a new position.
“He played really well. I can’t speak about the other issues,” he explained.
“He deserved his goal as it’s not an easy time for him on the pitch at the moment.
“He’s always important for us; he’s always hardworking and always has his moments today.
“It was a fantastic goal. It was a surprise for everybody that he decided to shoot at that moment.”
Firmino, along with fellow goalscorer Adam Lallana, moved level with Divock Origi with seven goals for the season so far, only behind Sadio Mane (eight) in the Reds’ 2016/17 rankings.
His efforts in the penalty area have proved invaluable this season, and the timing of this goal was crucial, in terms of his off-field issues, the result on Tuesday and looking ahead to 2017.