Liverpool have a problem with Roberto Firmino. And not for the first time.
As the Reds have continued to rise under Jurgen Klopp, winning the Premier League and Champions League in the past two seasons, the Brazilian has increasingly split opinion.
To some, he is an overlooked genius. The glue that holds the Liverpool attack together and ultimately makes the Reds’ tick, crucial to the standards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane continue to set on a weekly basis.
To others, namely a vocal minority on social media and opposing fans, he is simply an overrated number nine who doesn’t score enough goals with such a shout not aided by his almost season-long drought at Anfield last year.
And the 29-year-old’s anonymous performance before his 68th minute substitution in Liverpool’s dismal showing in their 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa, following a slow start to the season, has only prompted fresh scrutiny.
A dwindling goal-return since firing since 27 goals as the Reds’ reached the Champions League final in 2017/18 has not helped matters, with Firmino only notching 12 last season including a Premier League career low tally of nine.
His goalless return so far this campaign from five outings has enhanced this, admittedly simplistic, belief, but the Brazilian is no stranger to a slow start to a season at Anfield.
Signed by Brendan Rodgers from Hoffenheim in a £29m deal in the summer of 2016, he took his time to settle on Merseyside and become acclimatised to English football.
A back injury suffered against Carlisle United in September 2015, ruling him out for a month, only curtailed his progress as the then-Reds boss tried to find a position for him in the side.
In and out of the starting XI, and utilised in a number of different positions, it wasn’t until Klopp arrived at Anfield in October that Firmino’s Liverpool career really kicked into life.
It took the forward 11 outings to register his first Reds assist, coming in a 3-1 victory at Chelsea, with his first goal coming in his 14th appearance in a 4-1 victory over Manchester City the following month.
He would finish his first season in England with 11 goals and 11 assists as Liverpool reached the League Cup and Europa League finals, with Klopp using him only centrally at the expense of the out-of-favour Christian Benteke, the often-injured Daniel Sturridge and a rather raw 20-year-old Divock Origi as Firmino’s ‘false 9’ position was slowly introduced.
However, this season the Brazilian does not have the excuse of being played out of position or adjusting to new surroundings. He is simply out of form.
Heading into a Merseyside derby clash with Everton at Goodison Park after the October international break, his run of five games without a goal since the start of the season will be the longest since his maiden campaign at Liverpool.
So how can Klopp repeat his impact on Firmino from 2015/16 and kickstart the Brazilian’s season?
Play into form
The most likely option is to continue to play him upfront and hope he quickly finds form. After all, he is a Premier League and Champions League-winning forward.
It is still early days in the campaign afterall and would appear premature to write off Firmino’s days as a guaranteed starter.
Although not at his best, the forward has still registered two assists so far this season, while Salah and Mane have picked up where they left off alongside him in goal-laden starts to the new campaign.
Liverpool’s front three is one of Europe’s most-feared for a reason and there is nothing quite like the trio when they are at their mesmeric best.
With the Reds’ inside forwards still performing, there’s no reason to believe they can’t help get Firmino purring once again.
As Liverpool continue to rise under Klopp, the German has moved towards making his starting XI less certain.
Predominantly occurring in midfield, the summer arrival of Thiago Alcantara only makes it even more difficult to predict the Reds’ engine room on a weekly basis.
But two other signings could see Klopp choose to take Firmino out of the limelight if his rut continues.
Diogo Jota joined the Reds for £41m from Wolves this summer while Takumi Minamino has been eased in slowly after signing from Red Bull Salzburg in a £7.25m deal back in January.
The latter is the most natural replacement, having often been utilised as an alternative to the Brazilian in that central position for Liverpool since joining the club, while he has been in impressive form since pre-season.
Meanwhile, the Portugal international is also capable of playing centrally even if he does seem more suited to a berth on the left.
Elsewhere, both Salah and Mane have successfully played centrally for the Reds in the past, with Jota, Minamino and Xherdan Shaqiri all capable of filling their natural roles outwide if necessary, while Divock Origi is also an option though he has dropped down the pecking order in the past year.
While Firmino’s shoes are admittedly big ones to fill should he lose his role, Jota and Minamino in particular were signed so Klopp wouldn’t have to rely on his traditional front three having to start every game.
Maybe now could be the time to utilise them?
In the past, Klopp has also experimented with formations and switched to a 4-2-3-1 system when all is not well with his side.
A tactical change could be another way to reignite Firmino following his false start, with the Brazilian dropping to the number 10 position or being fielded alongside an extra man in attack.
In the past, he has predominantly dropped deeper when such a formation has been utilised with Salah or Mane leading the line.
However, in pre-season against Blackpool he played ahead of Minamino in the set-up in what was an impressing showing from the duo.
With Jota and Shaqiri again options, Klopp is able to keep everyone guessing, including Firmino himself, in which direction he will take when Premier League action resumes.
But while Liverpool’s options in attack have never been greater, the Reds boss will be desperate for the Brazilian to start firing again as quickly as possible.
While fans might not be at stadiums across Europe to bellow it, as his famous chant dictates, “There’s something that the Kop wants you to know!
“The best in the world, his name is Bobby Firmino!”
“Our number nine. Give him the ball and he’ll score everytime.
“Si Senor, pass the ball to Bobby and he’ll score.”
With the Champions League group-stages about to get underway and a Premier League title-race already looking much tighter than it was last year, now is the time for him to deliver on that diddy.
With a trip to Goodison Park next up, and with Liverpool knowing victory would see them move level at the top of the Premier League table, there has never been a better time for Firmino to show fans and critics alike exactly the Kop want you to know.