Jurgen Klopp reiterated Roberto Firmino's importance to Liverpool and hailed the forward as a "complete footballer" amid recent criticism.

Firmino's place in the side has been called into question by some given his lack of goals and the form of recent signing Diogo Jota, who is the first player to score in his first four top-flight home games for the club.

However, the Brazil international looked back to his best in Sunday's 3-0 win over Leicester City as he scored his second goal of the season in an impressive all-round display.

His 48 passes, 41 successful passes and six shots were the most he has managed in a Premier League game this season.

Klopp has constantly stuck by Firmino and used a musical anology to stress his game is about far more than just putting the ball in the net.

"Scoring is always important but Bobby is a complete footballer," he said at a news conference ahead of Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Atalanta.

"A football team is like an orchestra - you need people for different instruments. Some are loud and some are not that loud but all are important for the rhythm, and Bobby plays like 12 instruments in our orchestra. 

"I'm not concerned about anything for Bobby. The main thing I liked about his goal was the celebration. It was almost emotional because the players read newspapers and there's been some criticism."

Firmino is in contention to start against Atalanta, as is fellow attacker Mohamed Salah after testing negative for coronavirus.

Salah missed Liverpool's win over Leicester after contracting COVID-19 on international duty with Egypt, but he was cleared to return to training on Monday in a big boost for Klopp.

"Mo has trained and looked really good. He gave a negative test like the rest and is available," the German coach said. "We have to see what we can do with that."

Liverpool were without a number of injured key players at the weekend and Klopp is not expecting too many changes to his squad for Wednesday's match.

"All the others, there is no news," he said. "One looks to be a little closer, the others not so. That is the situation we are in. I don't want to talk about that too much."

Curtis Jones is one of those to have profited from the likes of Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara being out injured, featuring in nine of their 15 matches in all competitions this season.

No Liverpool player attempted more passes in the opposition half (37) than Jones against Leicester - tied with Andy Robertson - and he also recovered possession nine times, a joint-high alongside James Milner.

Klopp has been pleased with the way the young midfielder has seamlessly slotted into the side, which has also aided his development off the pitch.

"It is very positive. I'm not too surprised about it," Klopp said. "He is an exceptional talent. Everyone can see what an exceptional player he can be. 

"When you are in an environment like a top-class football team and are one of the top talents, it will add things to him as a person, too. I'm pleased for him."

Liverpool lead the way at the top of Champions League Group D thanks to three wins from three, including a thumping 5-0 victory away to Atalanta in the reverse meeting three weeks ago.

The Reds have not won multiple games against Italian sides in European competition since 2007-08, when seeing off Inter in both legs of the Champions League last 16, and Klopp is anticipating a tougher test at Anfield.

"They are a threat even without a point to prove," he said. "We were exceptional [in Italy]. We did everything right. It all came together. 

"We know that game has nothing to do with tomorrow. They're a top team with a special way to play. I expect problems in this game."

Liverpool made light work of Leicester City to move level on points with Premier League leaders Tottenham on a day that saw a couple of records broken at Anfield.

Inspired by another impressive Diogo Jota showing, the Reds eased to a routine victory to keep their positive momentum going at a time when their squad is getting more depleted by the week.

Merseyside rivals Everton were also victorious in Sunday's top-flight action with a narrow win at Fulham, while West Ham saw off Sheffield United and 10-man Arsenal were held by toothless Leeds United.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the key facts from the day's four Premier League fixtures.

 

Fulham 2-3 Everton: Calvert-Lewin at the double as Toffees inflict more capital punishment

Dominic Calvert-Lewin maintained his impressive scoring run with a couple of goals as Everton returned to winning ways in the early kick-off at Craven Cottage.

The England international scored after just 42 seconds – the earliest league goal Everton have netted since April 2017 – before Bobby Decordova-Reid's temporary leveller.

That made it goals in back-to-back home league games for Decordova-Reid for the first time since April 2018 when he was playing in the Championship with Bristol City.

Calvert-Lewin restored Everton's lead for his 10th league goal in nine outings this term, Lucas Digne setting up both that goal and Abdoulaye Doucoure's six minutes later.

Since making his competition debut in August 2018, only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson (both 26) have more assists among defenders than Digne's 15.

A struggling Fulham side wasted a chance to get back into the game when Ivan Cavaleiro became the latest player for the south London side to miss from the penalty spot.

They have missed five of their past eight top-flight penalties, including the previous three, which have each taken by different players (Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ademola Lookman and Cavaleiro).

Ruben Loftus-Cheek did pull one back but Everton, who have conceded twice or more in six straight league games for the first time in 12 years, held on for a third straight league win in London – their best such run since April 1987.

Sheffield United 0-1 West Ham: Blunt Blades still seeking first victory

Sebastien Haller scored from outside the box for the first time in his top-flight career, on what was his 190th such appearance, to earn West Ham a slender victory at Sheffield United.

The striker, who has also previously played in the Eredivisie and Bundesliga, scored from range after 56 minutes for his sixth goal in all competitions this season – double the number of any other West Ham player.

United were unable to respond and are now without a win in 13 games in all competitions, making this their worst run since October 2013.

Chris Wilder's men have lost four top-flight matches in a row and are only the third side in Premier League history to pick up one point or fewer from their opening nine games, after Manchester City in 1995-96 and Sheffield Wednesday in 1999-2000.

West Ham are now unbeaten in their past 12 Premier League games against sides starting the day bottom, winning five in a row, and they are the first London club to win at Bramall Lane in the competition in 12 attempts since October 2006.

Leeds United 0-0 Arsenal: Hot-headed Gunners fire another blank

Arsenal failed to score for the fourth time in five Premier League outings as they played out a stalemate with Leeds at Elland Road.

Firing blanks has become the norm for Arsenal but there was nothing usual about the scoreline from Leeds' perspective – only their third goalless draw in 101 league games under Marcelo Bielsa.

Leeds now have 41 clean sheets across those 101 matches, not including play-offs, which is more than any other side in the top four tiers of English football in that period.

The Gunners have scored just nine league goals in the same number of league games in 2020-21 – their lowest tally at this stage since 1986-87 when scoring six times.

Mikel Arteta's side had to play almost an entire half with 10 men after Nicolas Pepe was given the first red card of his career in Europe's top five leagues, this being his 146th such appearance.

That was the fifth red card Arsenal have received in the league since Arteta took over in December 2019 – at least two more than any other club.

A point can be considered a good result on the balance of things given Leeds had 25 shots – the third most a team has managed in the Premier League this term, behind only Manchester United v Newcastle United (28) and Leeds v Aston Villa (27).

Liverpool 3-0 Leicester City: Rampant Reds win again at fortress Anfield

A lot has been made of Liverpool's depleted backline but makeshift centre-back pairing Fabinho and Joel Matip withstood everything Leicester chucked at them, the Reds keeping a fourth clean sheet in seven games and conceding only three times in that run.

Jonny Evans' own goal after 21 minutes put Liverpool on their way – the sixth time the former Manchester United defender has put into his own net in the Premier League, which is behind only Richard Dunne (10), Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel (both seven)

Jota doubled the hosts' advantage before half-time against his favourite opponents to become the first Liverpool player ever to score in his first four home top-flight league appearances.

It was a special goal in more ways than one, too, as it came after a sequence of 30 passes – the most in the build-up to any goal by the reigning champions since Opta started collecting data in 2006-07.

Jurgen Klopp's side added a deserved third goal to their tally late on through Roberto Firmino, who has now scored in two of Liverpool's five home league matches this term, compared to one in 19 such outings in 2019-20.

The routine home win makes it 64 home league matches without defeat for Liverpool – now officially the longest run in the club's history, with 53 of those games ending in victory.

It was another unhappy reunion with Liverpool for their former boss Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, as he has lost all three league encounters with the Reds since taking charge of Leicester, conceding nine goals in the process.

Jurgen Klopp praised Roberto Firmino for a "super game" after Liverpool's 3-0 win over Leicester City in the Premier League.

Firmino headed in the sealer at Anfield on Sunday as Liverpool extended their unbeaten league run at home to a club record 64 games.

Often criticised, Firmino scored his second goal of the season and the Brazilian's 48 passes, 41 successful passes and six shots were the most he has managed in any Premier League game this campaign.

Klopp hailed the forward and said he was pleased to see the 29-year-old also get on the scoresheet, heading in James Milner's 86th-minute corner.

"We were really happy and relieved. He deserved it so much. He played a super game, he played a super game and was so important for us again," the Liverpool manager told a news conference.

"You could see in the face of all the players when he scored that everybody thought, 'Yes, exactly the right goalscorer'."

Firmino's goal came after Diogo Jota doubled Liverpool's lead following Jonny Evans' 21st-minute own goal.

Klopp was proud of his players for setting a club record with their unbeaten league run at home, but said it was something he would reflect on at another time.

"Look, my problem is that in the moment I spoke so much about football, I have so much to think about how we can play the next game and things like this," he said.

"So, it doesn't feel it. Maybe it's not right but there will be a moment, for sure, in the future when I think back – and hopefully it will be a different number and not only 64.

"It's absolutely incredible, but it's all about the boys. It's really difficult to achieve something like this but when you think about how tight a lot of games were then it doesn't happen just like this. You have to really dig in for that and the boys did that.

"I said it a few times before, we really enjoy playing here. It's our ground, it's our home, everything feels home – even when the people are not here. It doesn't feel right but we have to do it and we are happy that we can play.

"So, what the boys put out there on the pitch performance-wise is absolutely incredible and it's the only reason for the number. Obviously it's pretty tricky and pretty difficult to set records for this incredible club because our fathers or grandfathers, they were obviously pretty good. So having this record now, I'm happy for the players but it doesn't feel like a big moment, to be honest, because we play on Wednesday and that's actually my only concern at the moment."

Roberto Firmino has denied he is locked in a "personal battle" with Diogo Jota for the number-nine spot at Liverpool.

Jota's form since his move from Wolves for a reported initial fee of £41million has been a huge positive for Jurgen Klopp.

The 23-year-old has scored three goals in six appearances in the Premier League and a further four in three Champions League games, including a hat-trick in the 5-0 win at Atalanta.

Although he has made two fewer appearances in the league than Firmino this season, Jota has attempted as many shots (13) as the Brazil international, who has scored just once.

That gives Jota a shot conversation rate of 27.3 per cent, far higher than Firmino's 14.3, while he also boasts a better conversion percentage when it comes to big chances (67 per cent compared to 50 per cent).

Such an impact has placed Firmino's position in the first XI under threat, but he insists he is not simply competing with the new signing for minutes on the pitch.

"Liverpool have a great squad of players, so earning a starting position here is not easy at all, and I am used to that," Firmino said ahead of Sunday's game with Leicester City, according to the Mirror.

"Diogo is an excellent footballer and another companion in the squad. We all work hard during the week and then the coach decides who comes out. So, I don't have any personal battle with him."

Firmino has become a mainstay in Klopp's plans thanks in part to his more selfless work alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Indeed, the former Hoffenheim forward has created nine chances in the league this season - seven more than Jota - and has two assists, the most of any of the Reds' attackers in 2020-21.

Firmino thinks Liverpool's overall attacking strength gives them a forward line to match that of any team in the world.

"Liverpool's attack line is spectacular, and I would say comparable to any in the world, in any of the major leagues," he said. "Now this year I see it as being even better. And it's not emotion that makes me say this, but simply a result of looking at the statistics.

"As for me, I work hard in training – and then on the field, I do what Jurgen Klopp tells me. That is my working philosophy, always."

Brazil made it three wins from three games in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying after grinding out a 1-0 victory over Venezuela.

Brazil were frustrated by Venezuela in Sao Paulo, but Roberto Firmino's 67th-minute strike proved enough for the Selecao on Friday.

Firmino popped up with 23 minutes remaining in the absence of Neymar as Brazil stayed perfect to top the standings by two points ahead of rivals Argentina.

Back in action following last month's 4-2 win in Peru, Tite made four changes – some enforced – to his starting XI, with the unfit Neymar, Casemiro (coronavirus), Philippe Coutinho and Weverton dropping out and Gabriel Jesus, Allan, Everton Ribeiro and Ederson coming in.

Brazil – who drew 0-0 against Venezuela at last year's Copa America – found the back of the net inside seven minutes but the linesman raised his flag. Richarlison had scored after Renan Lodi's mishit shot was palmed into the path of the Everton forward.

The South American champions controlled possession, but had nothing to show for it, struggling to create clear-cut chances.

An unmarked Jesus was unable to turn the ball towards goal just past the half-hour mark, instead scuffing an effort to Richarlison, who could only steer his close-range effort wide of the post.

Venezuela were rarely threatening, though Yeferson Soteldo slalomed into the penalty area and slid a cross into the six-yard box but Marquinhos intervened at the last moment to clear the danger.

Brazil had the ball in the back of the net again prior to half-time however Douglas Luiz's effort was waived off for a foul on Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez.

After a VAR review for handball was waived way nine minutes into the second half, Brazil finally broke Venezuela's resistance 13 minutes later when the ball was headed into the path of Firmino, who made no mistake from close range.

 

What does it mean? Brazil roll on

It was not perfect, nor was it pretty, but Brazil got the job done behind closed doors. Without Neymar due to a groin strain and key midfielder Casemiro, Brazil were missing star quality against a stubborn Venezuela side. Despite not creating many clear-cut opportunities, Brazil managed to extend their winning streak to four matches, while they are unbeaten in their last 20 World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Firmino with confidence-boosting goal

Much has been said about Firmino, especially amid Diogo Jota's remarkable run of form at Liverpool. But Firmino popped up when Brazil needed him most. It was his first goal in four matches and just his second since netting twice against Bolivia on October 9.

Brazil lack spark

While Brazil walked away with maximum points, it was far from convincing. Tite's men appeared sluggish, and predictable in attack against the impressive visitors – lacking creativity in the final third.

What's next?

Brazil are away to Uruguay in Montevideo on Tuesday, while Venezuela host Chile on the same day.

Jurgen Klopp says it was a "tough decision" to play Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino from the start against Manchester City but believes the element of surprise worked in his side's favour. 

Talk before the game had centred on whether Jota – who had scored six goals in his previous four games, including a Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta in midweek – would start ahead of Firmino alongside Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in attack. 

Klopp, though, plumped for all four from the start at the Etihad Stadium, with Salah giving the Reds an early lead from the penalty spot before Gabriel Jesus equalised before the break of the 1-1 draw.

Kevin De Bruyne missed the opportunity to claim a precious win for the hosts when he dragged a penalty wide before half-time, but Klopp thinks anything less than a point for his side would have been unfair. 

"It was a super football game from all points of view," he told Sky Sports. "Two top teams ready for a massive fight.

"The energy level of both teams was incredible. You could see after 10 or 15 minutes everyone was breathing hard.

"It was tough for all the 22 on the pitch. Apart from the penalty they got I liked the game a lot.

"How we started was top, with a little surprise for the opponent with a different system. We won the balls, we broke through, we had counter-attacking moments but didn't finish it off.

"Apart from that, it's so tricky. It was a tough decision to change a system before we play City. But the boys are ready to adapt and perform. In a lot of moments we could have created bigger chances. It was really good football, the counter-attacks were really good.

"Of course, we could have played more football but it is difficult against them. We were dangerous, the build-up play was good."

Jurgen Klopp's bold team selection for Liverpool's 1-1 draw at Manchester City heightened the feeling of a changed dynamic within the rivalry that has come to define the present era in English football and its two main tactical protagonists.

Pep Guardiola has run through a range of configurations during his City tenure when confronted by the man with whom he began a compelling duel in their Bundesliga days.

Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund first placed the high priests of juego de posicion and gegenpressing in direct competition, the two strategic approaches that still dominate elite European football.

According to positional data collected by Opta, in each of his previous 11 encounters with Guardiola in England, Klopp wheeled out his trusty 4-3-3 - high intensity, high pressing and highly successful.

But prolific Anfield newboy Diogo Jota presented a conundrum. A midweek hat-trick against Atalanta made the Portugal forward hard to leave out, even if it meant breaking up the esteemed from three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Easy. Just play all four of them.

Salah reaps rewards for flying start

Klopp's call soon appeared as calculated on the sodden Manchester turf as it had cavalier on paper.

The equation weighed up by the Liverpool boss was a City defence buoyed by three consecutive clean sheets but unproven under prolonged scrutiny was worth the risk of a thorough examination.

City are not the free-scoring machine of their 100-point season in 2017-18 or the titanic tussle with Liverpool over the subsequent 12 months. In the first seven games of this Premier League season, City have scored only 10 times - 17 fewer than at the same stage last season. Before Sunday's match, their xG per game figure of 1.3 was their lowest in the competition since Opta began putting together such data in 2013-14.

The Reds were relentless early on, skidding balls in behind City's defensive line. The presence of a front four did not dissuade full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson from their usual raids.

While 51.8 per cent of City's first-half attacks came down the left flank where Raheem Sterling roved with intent against his former employers, Liverpool's assaults were split more or less evenly across the right, left and central channels.

Kyle Walker's clumsy foul on Mane for Salah's opening penalty was the culmination of an opening 13 minutes under siege.

Roads to Rodri closed off

The escape route Guardiola mapped out for his men was blocked off, with Salah and Firmino allowing central defenders Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias to have possession, while blocking off passes to holding midfielder Rodri.

The Spain international was named man of the match for a robust showing against Sheffield United last weekend but he toiled badly here. He won one of seven duels and a pass completion rate of 83.6 per cent dropped to 72 per cent in the opposition half, meaning he fulfilled neither of his briefs to provide protection and control.

Even for the most part of his eight career losses to Klopp - more than he has suffered to any other coach - the sense has been of Guardiola setting the terms of engagement. That was not the case here, but a City side in transition have shown they can operate in a more circumspect manner in recent weeks.

The space Klopp afforded to Kevin De Bruyne allowed the master playmaker to arrow a pass into the feet of Gabriel Jesus, whose Dennis Bergkamp impression illuminated a dank evening and lifted City.

De Bruyne's searching cross met Joe Gomez's elbow to earn a penalty that was nowhere near as accurate.

It was a glaring miss Guardiola would be left to rue after a Jesus header was the closest either side came in a second half of few chances.

A 1-1 draw where adrenaline gave way to attrition leaves City 11th after seven matches, but with a game in hand on Liverpool, five points better off in third.

Laporte and Dias taking City back to basics

Sections of the City fanbase have complained over Guardiola's failure to unleash a talent-stacked team as he once did. But without David Silva's quicksilver creativity and Leroy Sane's explosive wing-play - two world-class talents who loved these games - they are a different beast. Seven shots was their lowest in a Premier League fixture at the Etihad Stadium since February 2010, also against Liverpool

The teeth may not be so sharp, but there is added streetwise bulk. A combined outlay in the region of £120million means Laporte and Dias should provide reassurance, but plenty of City's other high-profile buys at centre-back confirm price tags are not guarantees.

After that rocky opening, they shut Liverpool down impressively. Laporte's four clearances were more than any other player on display, he and Dias won all of their aerial duels and the Portugal defender completed 93.7 per cent of his passes.

While Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan could not provide the requisite control in front of them, losing possession 25 times between them, Laporte and Dias brought the steel.

If Klopp's team selection on Sunday suggested a return to the heavy metal football on which he turned down the volume on to achieve greater clarity, Guardiola showed further evidence of a growing pragmatic streak. Following the 5-2 loss to Leicester City, his team have scored once in each of their subsequent Premier League games.

As the quality and entertainment waned after the break, it occurred that grinding rather than flying to wins might have be the way to go as a compelling rivalry shifts its shape again in this strangest of seasons.

Diogo Jota joined Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in a four-pronged Liverpool attack to take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

Jota has enjoyed an impressive start to life with the Premier League champions since joining from Wolves, scoring seven goals in 10 appearances across all competitions.

The Portugal international netted a hat-trick in the 5-0 midweek demolition of Atalanta in the Champions League, when Firmino had to be content with a place on the bench.

Jurgen Klopp recalled the centre-forward, whose Brazil team-mate Gabriel Jesus was named to lead the City attack for the first time since suffering an injury in their opening Premier League win at Wolves.

Jesus was on target when he came on in Tuesday's 3-0 victory against Olympiacos, when Ferran Torres scored his third goal in as many Champions League outings.

The Spain youngster completed City's forward trident alongside Jesus and Raheem Sterling, with Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva among the substitutes, where there was no place for Riyad Mahrez.

Liverpool knew victory would send them back to the top of the table and open up an eight-point advantage over City, who have played a game less.

Nevertheless, Klopp's men have struggled in this fixture, losing on each of their past three league trips to east Manchester – results that tally to a cumulative scoreline of 11-1.

Jurgen Klopp simply was not having it, no matter how gently the question was pushed his way, no matter how carefully phrased the follow-up.

Liverpool's manager would not be drawn to explain why Roberto Firmino is so important to his set-up, because to Klopp it felt like an insult for that to be necessary in the first place.

After five years with Liverpool, the Brazilian forward has, in Klopp's eyes, delivered so much that anybody still needing briefing about his qualities has not been paying attention.

He might still bench Firmino on Sunday, when Liverpool travel to likely title rivals Manchester City, but Klopp was scornful of the need to go over the former Hoffenheim player's history.

Friday's response from Klopp was to be expected.

Back in December 2016, though, a little over a year after both men arrived at Liverpool, Klopp was more inclined to assess the forward who was prised from the Bundesliga at the tail end of Brendan Rodgers' Anfield reign.

"He is a very important player, a connecting player, a finisher, a fighter, a defender, the first defender - that is important," said Klopp.

"A lot of things he is good at are very important for us."

That verdict doubtless still stands, as far as Klopp is concerned, but has Firmino's game changed in the years since he delivered the performances that earned such praise?

A false number nine but the real deal

Firmino's shirt number is a red herring. About as far from a classic number nine as a forward can be, his game, as Klopp astutely had it four years ago, is that of a player who links play, who presses and disrupts opposition, and, yes, who when the time comes can also put away a chance.

Nobody in the Premier League won possession in the final third of the pitch more than Firmino last season, with a total of 37 such instances putting him narrowly ahead of Burnley's Dwight McNeil and Southampton's Nathan Redmond (both 35).

Also last season, as Liverpool streaked to the title, only Firmino's team-mate Mohamed Salah (322), Manchester City's Raheem Sterling (302) and Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha (239) had more touches in the opposition box than Firmino (231).

He played a part in 194 open-play sequences that ended in a shot at goal, Opta statistics show, at an average of 5.8 sequences per Premier League game. Of those, 26 ended in a goal.

Each of those figures for Firmino marked an improvement on the previous campaign, although his goals total slipped from 12 in 2018-19 to a more modest nine from 38 games.

Given that Salah scored 19, Mane bagged 18 and six others netted four or more, Firmino's reduced goals contribution was not the slightest problem.

Along came Jota

Diogo Jota is thought to have cost Liverpool over £40million when he arrived in September from Wolves, with Klopp stepping into the market after first failing with efforts to bring Timo Werner to Anfield.

The message to Liverpool's established front three was clear: here is competition.

Klopp pointed generously to the likes of Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and Xherdan Shaqiri in Friday's news conference, highlighting the other forwards in Liverpool's ranks, and saying: "Pretty much all of them deliver for us in their moments."

But it feels strongly like a case of having to perm four from three for the big games at least.

Firmino has been a mainstay of teams that have accrued 99 and 97 points in the past two Premier League seasons, but his place appears to be the most threatened by Jota's emergence.

The new boy's hat-trick against Atalanta in the Champions League on Tuesday was a major moment, making it perhaps difficult for Klopp not to select him against City.

Firmino has had a hand in just three Premier League goals (one goal, two assists) in seven appearances this season, whereas Salah (seven goals) and Mane (four goals, one assist) are making themselves essential picks.

Jota has started twice and made three substitute appearances in the Premier League and already has three goals.

There is undeniably a strong case for his involvement on Sunday, but is he sure to start?

Why change what isn't broken?

Whether Klopp starts with Jota or Firmino remains to be seen. There is a sense Klopp does not look too closely at the bottom line but sees a bigger picture.

Firmino is still creating chances at a roughly equivalent rate to recent seasons - his numbers went from a 1.5 average chances created per 90 minutes in 2018-19 to 1.6 last term and are slightly down to 1.4 in this campaign.

He is also not shying away from the ball, having an average of 52 touches in games this season compared to 50 in 2019-20, and his passes per game have climbed from 35 last term to 39 in Liverpool's early matches this time around.

In terms of his involvement in those open play sequences that end in a shot, Firmino has slipped slightly to 5.3 in 2020-21, and to 0.5 in such sequences that end in goals.

His numbers are down elsewhere too, with Firmino winning possession in the final third just twice so far in this league campaign, and averaging 2.9 recoveries per game compared to 4.1 last season and 3.9 in the previous year.

It bears pointing out, though, that Firmino's role appears to have changed this season.

He is playing deeper, presumably by design rather than personal inclination.

In the attacking half of the field, Firmino is seeing far more of the ball in the initial third than further up the pitch, with 37.14 per cent of his touches in games coming there compared to 27.18 per cent over the course of the last Premier League season.

That is a significant leap, yet it fits with Klopp's previous explanation of his versatility and skillset. If Liverpool need to find more midfield creativity, then Firmino stepping back slightly to collect the ball nearer the halfway line gives them that.

Four into three won't go

Klopp made the point on Friday that Jota traded one hard-working team for another by leaving Wolves for Liverpool, and how that made it a natural transition.

"Nuno is a very, very demanding manager so he knows that an offensive player has to do different jobs; not only creating and scoring, he has to work hard and all these kind of things," Klopp said. 

"It's very good for us that Diogo could settle that quick and that he can gain confidence that early because it makes everything easier."

Perhaps not everything is easier, though.

Klopp has a decision to make this weekend - one of his most heavily scrutinised selection choices as Liverpool boss.

He picked all four of his star forwards against Sheffield United, but surely that was a one-off.

He must get it right given the strength of the opposition. The obvious decision may not be the correct one. All eyes will be on that team sheet come Sunday afternoon.

Jurgen Klopp insists Roberto Firmino's record for Liverpool should speak for itself as the manager weighs up his attacking options for Sunday's trip to Manchester City.

The Reds boss said he was "embarrassed" to be asked to explain the Brazilian's qualities, amid suggestions Firmino's place could be on the line for the Premier League clash.

With Diogo Jota making an instant impact following his arrival from Wolves, and with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane so influential, there has been a growing school of thought that Firmino could become the odd man out.

He has started all seven of Liverpool's league games this term but was only a substitute for the 5-0 win over Atalanta in the Champions League on Tuesday, coming off the bench to replace hat-trick hero Jota once the game was emphatically won.

Data from Opta has shown Firmino's impact has waned in certain areas from a statistical perspective in the early weeks of the 2020-21 season.

He has averaged just 0.6 shots on target over the first seven games in the Premier League, compared to 1.2 in each of the past two campaigns, and is winning possession far less frequently in the final third of the pitch - 0.3 times per game in 2020-21 against 1.1 last term and 0.8 in 2018-19.

Firmino is creating a similar number of chances for team-mates, albeit fractionally down at 1.4 per match from 1.6 last season, and scoring just once in seven league games will not help his cause in some eyes.

But Klopp has no doubts over a player who has been integral in teams that have accrued 97 and 99 points in the last two seasons, and who won the Champions League less than 18 months ago.

"I don't have to say one word about Bobby Firmino and how important he was for us. So I don't waste time with that," Klopp said.

"[People who are] not with us, I don't care if they know about him.

"He was in so many games the difference maker, without scoring maybe, but with scoring as well in other games.

"I would feel really embarrassed if I had to mention now the qualities of Bobby Firmino."

Klopp was asked further to explain what Firmino brought to Liverpool that might not be obvious to the casual observer, but he refused.

"I can't help these people, sorry," Klopp said. "If they don't see it, I can't help them."

The German boss said it "would have been completely normal" if Jota had taken a while before bedding in at Liverpool, and stressed he was not expecting what the Portuguese has been producing.

But over the longer term, Klopp always thought 23-year-old Jota would be capable of bringing a fresh element to Liverpool's play, and one that would make them a better side.

"He's the player we thought he would be," Klopp said. "We thought we can help him to reach the next level, like he can help us to reach the next level because of his qualities.

"He's played in one of the hardest-working teams you can face, with Wolves. That all helps us and it helps him obviously.

"So I'm really happy about the impact he had so far."

Jurgen Klopp launched an impassioned defence of Roberto Firmino after Diogo Jota scored a hat-trick in his stead during Liverpool's 5-0 Champions League rout of Atalanta.

Firmino has scored just once in 11 appearances so far this season, and was dropped to the bench for Tuesday's Champions League visit to Bergamo.

His prospects of a swift return to the starting XI were done little help by an impressive treble from his replacement in the front three, new signing Jota. 

Jota has now scored nine goals since the start of last season in European competition – six for Wolves and three for Liverpool, more than any other player for English sides over this period.

He also scored Liverpool's 10th European Cup/Champions League hat-trick, the ninth different player to do so for the club, with only Graeme Souness doing so on more than one occasion.

However, while Klopp admitted that form played a part in the composition of his team, the Reds manager rejected some of the harsher assessments of Firmino's performances.

"Good performances never give me a headache. For tonight, that was the decision," Klopp said.

"It was clear that it made sense for tonight to use the good shape Diogo is in and because of the way of Atalanta plays and defends it made sense that the skillset of Diogo makes sense. 

"But, it says nothing. The world is sometimes a really bad place that in the moment somebody's shining then we speak immediately about another player who played for us - it feels like - 500 games in a row. 

"We would not be in the Champions League even if Bobby Firmino was not with us and immediately I have to explain why he is not in the team. He will be in the team. 

"A lot of people in the world, if you would ask them what makes Liverpool special some days, they would say the way Firmino is playing. He is, on a good day, not to defend. 

"For us it's important that we have more than 11 and tonight Diogo used his shape in an incredible way and played a super, super game but that says nothing about Bobby and it's nothing to do with headaches. 

"I'm more than happy that the boys played like they played tonight."

With Fabinho having joined Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines and Joel Matip only just back from injury, Klopp handed a full Champions League debut to Rhys Williams in the heart of defence.

The teenager was barely troubled on what represented a big night in his career, and Klopp put that down to a collective effort that has stepped up since the loss of Van Dijk.

Klopp added: "Rhys: exceptional. I cannot imagine being 19 years old and playing my second professional football game in the Champions League against Zapata and Muriel. 

"I would have been nervous as hell, the boys are not, that helps massively. But, defending is obviously a common thing and how the team defended tonight, it was absolutely incredible. 

"When you leave the last line alone, which we did from time to time - not on purpose but because of thinking things are always going well - in the end we win the challenges anyway. 

"We had to change that obviously because Virg is not there anymore, which means if you share that responsibility now and put it on 10 shoulders instead of one then it can work out. 

"Tonight it was incredibly good what the last line did, supported by all the others. Everybody has to step up now because Robbo, Trent and Joe are now in charge and whoever plays with them - if it's Joel it's different - they are the most experienced and they have to command things in that line. 

"It was really nice to see and I couldn't be more happy for Rhys. You should see him in the dressing room, you need something special to hit the smile out of his face, it's probably not possible."

Liverpool returned to winning ways in the Premier League as Diogo Jota's second-half goal secured a 2-1 win over Sheffield United at Anfield on Saturday.  

A controversial draw with Everton last time out followed a 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Aston Villa before the international break and Jurgen Klopp's side looked set for more disappointment when a Sander Berge penalty put the Blades ahead after 13 minutes.  

Robert Firmino's first of the season drew them level ahead of the interval, though, before Jota sealed all three points in the 64th minute with his second goal for the club following his move from Wolves last month. 

The result moved Liverpool up to second, level on points with leaders Everton, while Chris Wilder's side - who have failed to win so far this season - remained in 19th.  

Liverpool almost went ahead inside the opening five minutes but Aaron Ramsdale backtracked well to tip over Trent Alexander-Arnold's audacious free-kick from 45 yards.  

The hosts then conceded their first penalty at Anfield in the Premier League since October 2018 when Fabinho was deemed to have brought down Oliver McBurnie just inside the area, with Berge stepping up to coolly slot past Alisson.   

The Liverpool goalkeeper kept out Ben Osborn's powerful volley soon after as Wilder's side threatened to double their advantage.   

It was the hosts who scored next, though, Firmino slotting home four minutes before the break after Ramsdale parried Sadio Mane's header. 

George Baldock and Mohamed Salah exchanged half-chances at the start of the second period before the latter saw a fine effort ruled out for offside shortly after the hour mark. 

The Reds' disappointment did not last long, however, with Jota superbly heading home Mane's left-wing cross to put the hosts ahead. 

Salah clipped an effort against the post with 10 minutes remaining but it mattered little as Klopp's men ultimately held on with the minimum of fuss to extend their unbeaten Premier League run at Anfield to a whopping 62 games. 

Holders Bayern Munich begin their Champions League defence with the visit of Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, in a game that will pit Robert Lewandowski against Luis Suarez.

Liverpool, winners in 2019, travel to Ajax, and Real Madrid host Shakhtar Donetsk, with two of the competition's most successful clubs hoping to avoid some worrying runs of defeats.

Antonio Conte's Inter tackle Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City host Porto, a team who boast a rather unfortunate record when it comes to games on English soil.

Here is some of the key Opta data from day two of matchday one.

Ajax v Liverpool: Can Firmino stop the rot?

This will be Liverpool's first meeting with Ajax since the 1966-67 European Cup, when the Dutch side prevailed 7-3 on aggregate in the last 16.

Liverpool's campaign last season ended at the same stage with back-to-back losses to Atletico Madrid. Should they lose in Amsterdam, it will be the first time since Brendan Rodgers was in charge in October to November 2014 that they have suffered three consecutive Champions League defeats.

Perhaps Roberto Firmino is the man to help them. He has been directly involved in 26 goals (15 scored, 11 assisted) in 33 Champions League matches; since his debut in 2017-18, the only other player with 10 or more goals and assists in that time is Kylian Mbappe (13 goals, 13 assists).

 

Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid: Lewandowski has history in his sights

Bayern were the first team in history to win every game en route to lifting the trophy last season, and their 11-game winning run is already the longest ever in the competition.

Should Robert Lewandowski score, he will become the first player to do so in 10 Champions League group games in a row. He currently shares the record of nine with Cristiano Ronaldo, who did so from 2012 to 2014.

Atletico have only won twice in their previous 10 group games away from home, but Luis Suarez could give them the boost they need – he has scored five goals in his last five starts in the competition, as many as he managed in his previous 31 starts combined.

 

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Zidane puts 100 per cent record on the line

Real Madrid have been in the Champions League group stage 28 times and have never failed to reach the next round. Leeds United, who did so twice, are the only other team to feature in more than one group stage and boast a 100 per cent record.

That said, Madrid lost their final two games last season – both legs of the last-16 tie with Manchester City – and losing to Shakhtar Donetsk would put them on a three-match losing streak in the Champions League or European Cup for the first time since September 1986.

With captain Sergio Ramos injured, Zinedine Zidane will have concerns about his defence. At least the forward line is in capable hands: Karim Benzema has managed four goals and two assists across six consecutive home games in the competition, and Shakhtar have failed to keep a clean sheet in 22 Champions League matches in a row.

Manchester City v Porto: More English misery?

Porto have played 20 away games against English sides in Europe and have failed to win any. In fact, they have lost 17 of those games and have not scored in the previous seven. They do at least go into this contest off a run of just two defeats in 16 Champions League group-stage matches.

City have a pretty strong recent record in the group stage, having gone unbeaten in 11 games since a surprise 2-1 loss to Lyon in September 2018. They also have Raheem Sterling in sharp form: the forward has scored 20 goals in the competition since his debut for City in September 2015, a tally only Harry Kane can match among English players in that time.

 

Other fixtures:

Inter v Borussia Monchengladbach:

9 – Romelu Lukaku has scored nine goals in 11 appearances in European competition for Inter. Since the start of last season, only Robert Lewandowski (15) and Erling Haaland (10) have netted more across the Champions League and Europa League.

8 – Strike partner Lautaro Martinez has scored five in six Champions League starts and eight in 14 in Europe overall for the Nerazzurri.

 

Salzburg v Lokomotiv Moscow:

10 – Since September 2018, Lokomotiv Moscow have lost 10 Champions League games, more than any other club in that time.

16 – Salzburg scored 16 group-stage goals last season but finished third in their group. The only other team to score that many and get knocked out were Chelsea in 2012-13.

 

Midtjylland v Atalanta:

16 – Atalanta have scored at least once in 16 of their previous 17 European games, including nine in three matches in last season's knockouts. Josip Ilicic has nine goals in 13 European appearances for the club.

18 – Midtjylland conceded 18 goals in eight matches in the 2015-16 Europa League, their previous involvement in Europe. No team conceded more that season.

 

Olympiacos v Marseille:

3 – This will be Andre Villas-Boas' first Champions League game since March 2016. He has lost his most recent three matches in the competition.

41 – Steve Mandanda has made 41 appearances in the competition, the most for any Marseille player in history. The goalkeeper accounts for 37 per cent of the total games played by current Marseille players in this tournament.

Roberto Firmino's importance to Liverpool is undoubtable.

Ahead of Saturday's Merseyside derby against Everton, manager Jurgen Klopp again defended the forward over his lack of goals, with Firmino yet to find the net for the Premier League champions this season.

And for good reason. As Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane dominate the headlines and the goals, Firmino plays a key role for Liverpool.

Using Opta data, we take a look at how Liverpool go with and without Firmino, plus his output.

 

No doubt over Firmino importance

His output constantly questioned, Firmino's importance to Liverpool has often been highlighted on the rare occasions he has been absent for the Reds.

The data shows the same. Since Firmino's arrival from Hoffenheim for a reported £29million in 2015, Liverpool have played 194 Premier League games.

Klopp's side have a win percentage of 64.8 when the durable Firmino has played, compared to 53.3 in the 15 games they have been without him. They also collect more points per game (2.2 to 1.9) with Firmino.

While Liverpool have scored slightly more without Firmino (2.2 average goals for to 2.1), they have more shots, possession, crosses and passes into the final third with the Brazil international, highlighting his link-up ability and movement. Both passing accuracy and accuracy in the opposition half is slightly higher, too.

With Firmino having scored 29 of his 57 Premier League goals away from home – Liverpool have also been completely dominant at Anfield – their winning percentage on the road in the league without him is just 37.5, compared to 58.4 with him.

Firmino provides balance

Salah and Mane have been two of the Premier League's best attackers in recent seasons, so it is no surprise Firmino's goal involvements are below his star team-mates. Since their respective arrivals at Anfield, Salah has an incredible 106 in 112 games and Mane has 86 in 130, with Firmino (57 goals and 37 assists) contributing 94 in 179.

A key factor to that has been Firmino's inability to convert as well as his team-mates. Salah was the last of the trio to arrive at Liverpool, joining Firmino and Mane with his move from Roma in 2017. Since then, Firmino's big chance conversion sits at 41.3 per cent, compared to Salah (49.5) and Mane (46.2), although he also gets far fewer opportunities. The Egyptian has had 1.02 big chances per 90 minutes, more than both Mane (0.85) and Firmino (0.65).

And while Salah has enjoyed a spectacular Liverpool career, Firmino's goal involvements have also been consistent at and away from Anfield. Since the trio came together, Firmino has been directly involved in 31 goals in 58 away league games, similar to his 28 in 55 at home. On the road in that time, Salah has 39 in 54 games, while Mane's drops off to 25 in 50.

Plus, Firmino balances out the front three. He has a considerably better dribble success rate (61.1) than both Mane (52.3) and Salah (51.5) since the dynamic trio formed their partnership, while he can also drop deeper, providing 3.7 passes into the final third per 90 minutes, compared to Mane's 3.1 and Salah's 2.2.

Liverpool may need more goals from Firmino, but there is no doubt about his importance to Klopp's side.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp backed Roberto Firmino despite the forward's goalless start to the season for the Premier League champions.

Firmino is yet to score in five games for Liverpool this season, although he did manage a brace in Brazil's 5-0 World Cup qualifying win over Bolivia last week.

The forward is often criticised for his lack of goals – he netted just nine in 38 league games last season – but his contribution to Liverpool as a whole is praised.

Ahead of Saturday's Merseyside derby against Everton, Klopp again praised Firmino's efforts for Liverpool.

"These are things where I have to be different to the outside world," he told reporters.

"If I would judge moments as much as you have to judge moments – and moments are not only a second, or a game, or two games, three games, it can be a period. For me, it’s just as important how influential the player is, how he works for the team.

"We lost the last Premier League game [against Aston Villa], and before that we won all the Premier League games and Bobby didn't score, but Bobby was incredibly influential.

"It was always clear, a player like Bobby, if he's not scoring and people start focusing on that, then you realise even he loses, from time to time, the ball. Then you add it on. He doesn't score and he loses balls and all these kinds of things then all of a sudden you speak about 'Is that Bobby Firmino?' Yes, it is. I was in training, he scored twice for Brazil, he is in a top shape to be honest and will play for as long as he can."

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have scored eight of Liverpool's 11 Premier League goals this season, while Firmino has two assists.

However, Firmino has had just one big chance compared to four each for Salah and Mane, who are converting at an impressive 100 per cent and 75 respectively.

Firmino has also had just six shots, including blocks, a far lower tally than both Salah (19) and Mane (13).

"It's normal that you discuss it and we discuss performances, individual and team performance, but not in the same way as you, obviously," Klopp said.

"Yes, we want him [Firmino] to score, we want him to come into positions where he can score. Yes, he could have scored for example against Villa early, plenty, twice? It was so long ago. I know that.

"He doesn't like that, I don't like that, but it's not the one thing I think about when I think about Bobby, obviously."

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