Liverpool vs Real Madrid: Firmino against Benzema, duel at the top of the ‘false nine’ | Sports

Encouraged by dentist Robbie Hughes, Roberto Firmino strove to turn his teeth into the most meticulous collection of ivory on the planet. After enameling his incisors, molars and fangs with an experimental nuclear target, all his teammates watched him brush and polish each day, painstakingly, piece by piece, before and after each workout, with a paste that costs £250 a knob. Asked about the rumors, Andrew Robertson attested that the legend was true. “If I’m in my corner and Bobby smiles in the opposite area, I see his teeth shine,” the full-back confessed to a friend, half perplexed, half laughing, convinced, like everyone in the Liverpool dressing room, that the The best investment that the attacker made was in his smile, the light of Anfield, a reflection of the most generous character that can be found in the harsh world of elite football, and the hallmark of a false nine of that season.

In the Liverpool technical office they admit that the biggest injustice committed by Jürgen Klopp since he arrived at the club in 2015 was to postpone Firmino simply because he was the friendliest attacker in the cast. The one who never complained. The one who always smiled when he saw himself among the substitutes and the next day he trained with the same dedication as always. The one that made life less uncomfortable for the coach when he wasn’t playing. Forced to rotate, to give minutes to newcomers, Luis Díaz or Diogo Jota, the German did not dare to put the haughty Salah on the bench, much less the rude Mané.

The outcast was not the least productive. He was Firmino. The issue became the leitmotiv of the corporatist talks in the dressing room. Heading towards the conquest of the Champions League in 2019, the goalscorer Salah earned 18 million euros net per course, the versatile Mané 12, and the one who put together the plays for the others, Firmino, six million. After the team took the cup around town, Mané met with representatives of the American owners to demand a raise. He didn’t get the purpose of it. But the phrase that he left still echoes in the club’s offices. “My thing is serious, but what you have done to Roberto is a shame,” said Mané, according to a person linked to the conversations.

There are salaries that respond to media dimensions rather than sports. There are footballers of journalists, and footballers of footballers. If in the best Liverpool there was a player capable of creating growth inertia valued by his teammates, it was Firmino. The recognition, from Van Dijk to Henderson through Mané, was unanimous. Klopp surrendered to the evidence when it was too late. After selling Mané – who did not accept being Salah’s subordinate – and spending the entire budget on transfers to Darwin Núñez, last summer the coach understood that if Firmino was not held on, the team would melt in his hands. By then the Brazilian from Alagoas was turning 31 and had the upper hand: his contract ends in June 2023. Even though the club offers him a renewal until 2026, he receives no answers. Klopp seems sad and resigned to the inevitable. He believes that the player has decided to leave and prefers not to put pressure on him.

“It’s crucial for us,” Klopp said in October, when Firmino’s intervention dismantled Rangers (1-7) in the Champions League. “He is the heart and soul of the team. The way we played in recent years was only possible thanks to Bobby. There is no doubt about its quality. We’ll see how the year goes, but it’s essential for us. People will write books about the way he interpreted the position of false nine”.

midfielder soul

With Messi’s permission, the best false nines In the last decade, the integral strikers capable of sustaining an entire constellation by themselves have been Harry Kane, Benzema and Firmino. The Liverpool player, however, surpasses them all in one facet. When he comes down to midfield to help midfielders, he is the one who best interprets whether or not the play has the potential to spill into the box. His power of instantaneous analysis lets him know if he has to go back for the goal or continue in the combination, displaying some creepy profiles, controls and sense of rhythm that never condition him if the ball is lost. Neither Kane nor Benzema are capable of going down to help their own central defenders with such determination in the event of a crisis. As a technician in the service of Liverpool says: “He never reserves strength for the next play; he doesn’t have the stomach not to lend a hand to his partner, even if he has to run another 30 meters; he just lives in the now.”

If good humor deprived him of the continuity his skills deserved, his vocation for sacrifice puts him in danger. Firmino squeezes his body to the border of injury. He had had muscle problems for a month when he returned against Everton a week ago, and this Saturday in Newcastle he did not spare an ounce of energy. The data is eloquent: without the Brazilian more points are lost than with him. Between the technical secretary and Klopp there is concern about the awareness that the only way to reach Champions League positions in the Premier will be with Firmino. The technicians do not know how to dose him without damaging the team’s game.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 between Liverpool and Madrid will not have a more brilliant summit than the duel between two of the best exponents of the same species: Karim Benzema and the brilliant Roberto Firmino.

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