On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.
However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.
Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.
The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.
At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.
But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.
The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.
The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.
Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.
However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.
He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.
The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.
But that is set to change.
Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.
Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.
The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.
Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.
He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.
Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.
His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.
Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.