DOMINIC KING: Liverpool will NOT be able replace Roberto Firmino
DOMINIC KING: Liverpool won’t be able to replace Roberto Firmino… he kept doing it until the very end as his 110th Reds goal kept their Champions League hopes alive
- Roberto firmino scored a late goal as Liverpool were held to a draw by Aston Villa
- Like the Brazilian, Jurgen Klopp’s side will find it difficult to replace James Milner
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will depart with a sense of what might have been
The thing with Liverpool is there is always a reference point between present and past. So on this spring day, with emotions heightened and the sense of nostalgia hang heavily in the air as goodbyes were prepared to be said, your mind drifted back to a similar occasion in 1994.
It doesn’t seem that long but it’s 29 years now, another generation ago. That was the final season when the Kop was a standing terrace and the last dance in front of it was a home game against Norwich City. The expectation, of course, that the visitors would be swept aside.
Everything was set up for a party: a capacity crowd, the return of legends who had set the standards for an emotional precursor, flags and banners unfurled in every part of the stadium. The party turned into the biggest damp squib of all time, however, as a dreadful Liverpool team wilted.
Norwich, who that season had been mixing it with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup, won 1-0 – Jeremy Goss created a little bit of history by becoming the last man to score in front of The Kop – and the fairytale finale failed to materialise.
For long periods, that is precisely how it felt things would turn out on this occasion. Roberto Firmino and James Milner, along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, were saying goodbye closing the chapter on a wonderful era.
Roberto Firmino came off the bench to earn Liverpool a point at home to Aston Villa
Firmino will depart the Reds alongside Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
For a while it seems the four departing players would not get a good ending at Anfield
All manner of merchandise for Firmino was sold out around the stadium, fans had arrived wearing Brazil kits in homage to a man who had scored 109 goals in eight years, one of which included the decisive strike in the 2019 Club World Cup final against Flamengo.
Liverpool, on a seven match winning sequence, were expected to make it eight and send the departing quartet off on their way with one last happy memory. The thing is with football, it rarely follows the predicted script and, for long periods, another damp squib looked in the offing.
Aston Villa – superbly coached and organised by the outstanding Unai Emery – played with energy and a clear plan. They deserved the lead that Jacob Ramsey had given them, a lead that could have been doubled had Ollie Watkins held his nerve when taking a penalty in front of The Kop.
With Jurgen Klopp in the stands, Liverpool looked out of sorts. They tried too hard, too many things failed to come off and in the rare moments they got a sight of goal, they found Emi Martinez brimming with obduracy. He wasn’t for being beaten.
Then, just when it seemed like 1994 was going to be repeated, Firmino and Milner were summoned from the bench. Liverpool began to tick and, soon, Villa were trying to hold back the Alamo, as wave after wave of attack washed towards them.
Eventually, there was an equaliser and a fairytale one at that. There was Firmino, with goal 110, to secure a draw. His scoring contributions have been worth five points to Liverpool in this campaign, a significant reason they have any kind of European football to play next year.
It would be risible to suggest Liverpool will be able to replace him; they won’t, for that matter, be able to replace the indefatigable Milner, either. He has set standards around the camp, led team-mates in the right direction. He leaves as the best free transfer in the club’s history.
Like Firmino, Liverpool will be unable to replace the indefatigable James Milner
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will depart with a sense of what might have been after injuries
You could see the emotion they felt at the end, emotion that was felt, also, by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita. The last named didn’t have the impact many envisaged following his then club record arrival from RB Leipzig in 2018, a point shown by the fact his 129 appearances is a lesser total than Milner (130) has made from the bench for Liverpool.
A penny, however, for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s thoughts. Klopp spoke warmly about him on Friday and also with a sense of what might have been: he was outstanding in 2018 when he first arrived and but for a knee injury that was absolutely catastrophic things might have been different.
Back then, he had made himself an England regular and gave Liverpool variety from the engine room. There were moments early on when he made a difference. The thing with Firmino is that he kept doing it until the very end.
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