Liverpool will bid farewell to Roberto Firmino at the end of the season.
As the curtain closes on Roberto Firmino’s Liverpool career, the obvious question is who will step up to fill the void left by the Brazilian.
Announced on Friday afternoon that the 31-year-old would be leaving at the end of the season, it certainly feels this is the right time for the club and player to part ways after a successful eight years spent together.
Reds supporters experienced the heartache of losing Sadio Mane last summer, an exit many hoped would not have happened, but Jurgen Klopp’s side is continuing their evolution at the expense of those who have served as central figures during this process.
Replacing Mane is something some fans believe Liverpool is still yet to do, though the conversation could well have been different had Luis Diaz not been sidelined since October. Signed midway through last season from Porto, the Colombian star hit the ground running on Merseyside and learned the ropes of his left-wing role from the man who mastered it himself.
Mane was deployed in central positions on a few occasions last term as Diaz shone out wide, paving the way for the latter to act as a ready-made successor to the Senegalese star ahead of the 2022/23 campaign. Three goals in the opening eight Premier League games of the current campaign reinforced the idea Diaz was more than ready to step up in the absence of his predecessor, though a knee injury sustained in October put paid to such plans.
Faced with a similar task in respect of life after the outgoing Firmino is Cody Gakpo, who was recruited by the Reds from PSV during the January transfer window. The Dutch international made his debut in an FA Cup tie with Wolves on the left of the front three, though has since been utilized centrally by Klopp with Darwin Nunez shifted across.
Firmino of course has developed a reputation over the years for his ability to have a major influence on matches from deep, linking the play from midfield to his teammates in the attack. A 2-1 defeat to Manchester United earlier this season saw this taken to a new extreme, with the Brazilian unable to get anywhere near the opposition box, but this unorthodox approach has worked wonders for the most part.
Gakpo is now likely to be the player to take on a similar responsibility, hinted by Klopp’s recent decision to allow the 23-year-old to lead the line. Back-to-back goals against Everton and Newcastle United followed after this tweak was made, and there’s every reason to believe he will adapt to Liverpool’s system in the same way Diaz has.
During the fourth-round FA Cup defeat by Brighton last month, Gakpo produced a Firmino-esque carry of the ball having received possession close to the halfway line. This ended with Harvey Elliott being presented with the chance to score, only for a poor touch to scupper this possibility. The intention to create was present, even if the final product wasn’t.
It is unlikely Liverpool will find a player identical to Firmino no matter how hard they search, but Gakpo could well be the obvious answer as the Reds prepare to lose another member of the fabled front three.