Liverpool’s final home game of the season consisted of two farewells. The Kop bid farewell to James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlian, Naby Keita and of course Roberto Firmino but also may have kissed their slim chances of Champions League qualification goodbye too, with a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa.
The Reds must now hope that Manchester United fail to beat Chelsea and Fulham in their next two games at Old Trafford in order to squeeze into 4th spot.
Despite the ramifications of the draw, there was a near-perfect swan song for Firmino. Had Cody Gakpo’s equaliser stood then perhaps Firmino would have created the ideal send-off but after a lengthy VAR consultation, the goal was chalked off.
Even though Ezri Konsa’s block ricocheted the ball towards an offside Virgil Van Dijk, the ruling is that unless the player has an intention to play the ball then he is not technically interfering with play. Essentially, had Konsa passed the ball to Van Dijk the goal would have stood. Very confusing indeed.
Following Gakpo’s fruitless celebrations, he lifted his shirt and revealed the damage of another contentious decision earlier in the game. Tyrone Mings channelled his inner Nigel De Jong and planted a boot into the mid-drift of Gakpo, resulting in a yellow card and no review from VAR.
Watching from afar, Jurgen Klopp wasn’t dwelling on the decisions that went against his side as he served the first suspension of his two-match ban.
“I think the whole season is rather a season where we qualify for Europa League than for Champions League,” he said.
“We were for too long not good enough or ourselves.”
“This day was not an easy day for us – no excuse for anything”
Despite Klopp’s condemnation, Firmino’s 89th-minute equaliser has kept Liverpool’s chances mathematically intact. A sublime outside of the boot pass from Mohamed Salah found the acrobatic lunge from Firmino, as he took his tally to 110 for the club.
Salah’s assist for the departing Brazilian was also the 25th time that the pair have combined for a Premier League goal (Salah 12 assists, Firmino 13), the most of any Liverpool duo in the competition. (Opta).
The devastating duo have profited from one another since they joined forces and have conjured up some memorable goals for the club. Firmino’s mesmerising back-heel against Southampton and twinkle-toe touch to set up Salah against Newcastle will live long in the memory of Liverpool fans.
The Brazilian was truly an exceptional footballer who was applauded by many. Gary Neville once said any manager would want him in their side, Ian Wright said he was the best false nine in the world back in 2020 and Klopp summarised Firmino perfectly in 2018.
“Mo Salah, world class, but not every day. Sadio Mane, world class, but not every day. Roberto Firmino, world class, pretty much every day,”.
Although, it hasn’t been easy for him. After struggling to adapt under Brendan Rodgers, Firmino looked disjointed. He played in several positions under Rodgers- including out wide- and was struggling to spearhead a stagnating Liverpool attack that was still suffering from the departure of Luis Suarez and the absences of Daniel Sturridge.
In his first 12 games in the 2015/16 season, Firmino failed to score but once Klopp tweaked the Brazilian’s position and role in the side, he never looked back.
His first goal for the club against City at the Etihad in Liverpool’s 4-1 rout signalled what Firmino would go on to produce in a Liverpool shirt.
One could only describe it as ‘five a side stuff’, as Firmino flicked, tricked and skipped his way around the Etihad eight years ago- as he and Coutinho toyed with City’s defence.
Two braces against Arsenal and Norwich in that crazy 5-4 win that same season gave fans enough reason to believe this was the man to finally solve their team’s attacking problems.
Goals galore was never going to be Firmino’s USP- but rather his ability to form the creative hub of Liverpool’s front three upon the arrival of Sadio Mane and then Salah.
Fans took Firmino into the side with open arms and have held onto him ever since, but it is now time to let go.
The result against Villa and the ramifications seemed largely irrelevant come the end of the 90 minutes as fans waited for their hero to give his final blessing to the Anfield faithful.
A new era is on the horizon for Liverpool and the departure of a cult hero and a player of such quality in Firmino certainly indicates that.
Gakpo is the man entrusted by Klopp to fill the void left by Firmino but in truth, nobody can replace the man they call the ‘Bobby Dazzler’.