The impact made by Diogo Jota at Liverpool has forced Roberto Firmino to raise his game, says Dominic Matteo, with the Brazilian forward in the process of proving that he remains a game-changer.
Said qualities were rarely questioned as the South American forged the most productive of partnerships with fellow frontmen Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
End product has, however, been in short supply for the 29-year-old of late, with just three goals recorded through 20 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign.
The most recent of those proved to be decisive, with a dramatic late winner nodded home in a 2-1 victory over fellow title hopefuls Tottenham.
Firmino had been leading the line again in that contest as summer signing Jota has been ruled out for several weeks with an untimely injury.
The Portuguese had hit nine goals in 17 appearances prior to being laid low, with plenty suggesting that he should be handed a regular role in Liverpool’s fearsome attacking unit.
With Jota now on the treatment table, Firmino has the chance to prove that he remains the go-to man for Jurgen Klopp, with Matteo expecting a reliable performer to step up to that challenge.
The former Reds defender told Stadium Astro: “Jota has been outstanding – every time he gets on the ball you think he’s going to score a goal. Definitely that might push Firmino forward.
“When you are up against a player who will score goals and make chances, you have to do something to influence the game. Firmino has done that now and hopefully he will get the confidence out of that.
“He had looked a big leggy in the last few games but maybe now after that goal [against Spurs] it will refresh him.
“His keeping of the ball needs to be a bit better, he was so good at that last season. This season he hasn’t kept it as well but people learn a lot about you as a player. Firmino has still got that ability to change a game. I’m sure he will get confidence out of that.”
Matteo added on Firmino’s value to the collective cause at Anfield, with a leading role played in Champions League, Club World Cup and Premier League title triumphs: “The one thing we know about Jurgen Klopp and his loyalty to certain players is that he loves Firmino and what he brings to the team on and off the field.
“He’s a brilliant character, a great player. We know Salah and Mane get most of the goals and Firmino chips in, but the work he does is outstanding. He’s a fan favourite as well, they adore him.
“The way he plays, trying to do it the right way. He’s so clever – when the ball comes into him, you never know what he is going to do. He has got a trick in his locker.
“He is probably not as quick as some of the other players but because Mane and Salah are so quick they get away with that.
“The way he links the team together is outstanding. He’s a great all round player. Yes, the goals haven’t come as much as they would like, but sometimes that happens.”