Liverpool have five players whose contracts are due to expire in 2023, with the priority being a new deal for Mo Salah. But Roberto Firmino is also quietly justifying an extension…
On a 13-game unbeaten streak, top of their Champions League group and keeping the pace in the Premier League title hunt, a lack of summer transfer activity does not appear to have slowed the Reds down.
Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Alisson, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Harvey Elliott, Caoimhin Kelleher, Nat Phillips and Adrian all signed fresh terms, as Liverpool tied down the core of Klopp’s squad.
There have been tactical tweaks and an injection of youth, but by and large, consistency has been the key for the Reds’ impressive start.
Liverpool are not done there, of course, with Salah’s world-best form amplifying calls for the club to reward him with a new long-term contract worth around £400,000 a week.
It would be a groundbreaking deal for the club, and it is understandable – despite his efforts in front of goal – that time is being taken for talks with his representatives to come to a conclusion.
Keeping Salah could be one of the most important moves Liverpool have made under the ownership of Fenway Sports Group.
At 30, and having produced his worst goal return for a single campaign last time out, Firmino was widely considered the most expendable of Liverpool’s first-choice attacking trio when the debate raged over the summer.
Now, though, the No. 9 is proving his worth all over again, opening up the prospect of a continued stay at Anfield beyond 2023.
Having seen his touch, weight of pass and eye for goal elude him for large parts of 2020/21, the striker appears reinvigorated this term – even though, unlike Salah, Mane and many of his team-mates, he was not afforded the luxury of a full pre-season.
Firmino joined the Brazil squad at Copa America, making five appearances including two starts, coming off the bench in a disappointing 1-0 loss to Argentina in the final on July 11.
His first appearance of the summer for Liverpool came in the hour-long friendly against Bologna in Evian on August 5, before rounding off a shortened warmup with a brace in the 3-1 defeat of Osasuna at Anfield.
However, a place among those less illustrious names laid it clear for the Brazilian heading into the campaign proper, and it was no surprise that he began the season as second choice.
Diogo Jota started in his place against Norwich and Burnley, opening the scoring in both, and when Firmino was given his first start of the season against Chelsea, he was forced off before half-time as the Portuguese took his place.
Perhaps that enforced break, and a month of the sidelines with a hamstring problem, gave him the boost he needed to reclaim his spot.
The knock-on effect of that time out was a withdrawal from the Brazil squad for the September international break and an omission from Tite’s selection entirely the following month.
While Alisson and Fabinho travelled to South America amid controversy over quarantine rules, Firmino was able to stay on Merseyside and focus on his revival – the performances, in turn, have improved.
Two goals off the bench against Porto were followed by a hat-trick on his return to the starting lineup at Watford.
Add his goal against Norwich on opening day, and Firmino is now only three off his tally for the whole of the last campaign, after only two-and-a-half months and nine appearances.
His manager has long maintained, though, that he does not need goals to reinforce his belief in the player he was fortunate enough to inherit upon his arrival in 2015.
“He’s a very important player for us, he’s a connector. He’s the best offensive defender I ever saw in my life, definitely,” Klopp said earlier this month.
“He’s a ball chaser, he’s incredibly smart with all the things he’s doing, technically on the highest level and is able to play in the smallest spaces.
“Can make incredibly good decisions in a really short time and on top of that scores goals as well.
“That’s why we are all so happy when time to time he rewards himself with a hat-trick or whatever.”
Klopp’s sentiment was crystallised in a stunning performance in the 5-0 thrashing of Man United, in which Firmino did not find the back of the net but was masterful in his work on and off the ball.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) October 26, 2021
It was Firmino who created the space for the likes of Salah, Jota and Keita to move into, dragging Harry Maguire around at will and ensuring United’s weak midfield had no time on the ball to build up a response.
Even without a goal, it was a definitive Firmino performance.
And it was a timely reminder, too, that this is not a player Liverpool should simply cast aside after one flawed season – one which, it cannot be stressed enough, was far from ideal for any of Klopp’s squad.
The conundrum facing the club’s decision-makers with Firmino entering the final two years of his contract, though, is that he will be almost 32 by the time his existing deal expires.
With Klopp only committed for another year beyond that, there is certainly a cause to argue that letting the striker go could serve as a clean break in a time of evolution.
But there are no signs of Firmino slowing down permanently just yet, and encouragingly, he is not a player who relies on pace, rather his elite tactical intelligence and flexibility.
If he were to stay at Liverpool past 2023, there is a chance he could even adapt his role in the side; adept as a No. 9 or No. 10, there is a sense he would also suit duties as one of the No. 8s in Klopp’s midfield.
Despite his status as a Premier League and Champions League winner, he is not a star name like Salah or even Mane, and as such it is unlikely he would command anywhere near the £400,000-a-week wage that the No. 11 is looking for.
There appears to be no urgency from either party to resolve the matter, but extending Firmino’s contract could prove to be a win-win situation for Liverpool.