Liverpool have issues to iron out but in a way that suits them. Roberto Firmino inspired an impression of their purest early 2017/18 version.
It was not quite enough to warrant the sort of fawning ovation Old Trafford gifted Ronaldo in 2003. Ibrox can be a slightly less welcoming place to those just passing through, even when the home players are a little too accommodating. But Roberto Firmino was every bit the showman to inspire Liverpool against Rangers.
A performance dripping in the usual flair and finesse had uncharacteristically high levels of finishing prowess. It was an archetypal Firmino hat-trick: a well-taken header which betrayed his dormant physicality; a first-time left-footed finish which nutmegged the goalkeeper; and an unnecessary, ostentatious but glorious flicked assist for Darwin Nunez with his right.
The only thing missing was some no-look impudence.
But that will have to do. Liverpool rallied from their characteristic concession of the opening goal to score seven times without reply and avoid disaster. Six of those came in the second half after what was presumably a rather animated chat in the dressing room after 45 error-laden minutes.
Even then, Firmino had been their bright spark in the opening period, the one most intent on making things happen. He was the only player who looked comfortable and natural, the exception to a rule of forced mistakes and wayward passes.
Forty-six per cent of Liverpool’s goals so far this season have come against Bournemouth and Rangers, with Firmino scoring or assisting eight of the 17. That might imply flat-track bullying on the Brazilian’s part but rather they were the odd occasions on which Liverpool have raised their standards to match him. In this most transitional of Liverpool seasons, Firmino has been excellent regardless of the opponent.
While relying on a 31-year-old whose sale felt inevitable and justified this summer for solitary moments of genius does not sound like a particularly healthy position for an elite club with trophy-based aspirations to find themselves in, Jurgen Klopp will take what he can get.
For as long as the midfield fails to track runners, the defence is exposed by systemic issues and the attack struggles to incorporate Nunez, Firmino will play the role his manager assigned him after inheriting an Anfield rabble seven years ago: safety blanket. A Liverpool side with their engine still feels dependable.
There was enough of a second-half resurrection around the forward – even before Mo Salah scored the quickest hat-trick in Champions League history in a substitute cameo – to suggest Liverpool are at least in the vicinity of the right track, if not always on it.
Ibrahima Konate was excellent, save for a Scott Arfield goal which did not flatter anyone playing in red. Harvey Elliott improved considerably after half-time and capped that off with a goal. Nunez survived on scraps before being spoon-fed by Firmino and, to his credit, he finished superbly with the right supply. Diogo Jota continues to bubble away quietly, assisting each of those Salah goals.
Joe Gomez and James Milner also proved their England critics wrong with fine performances at right-back. The former perhaps even took the role too seriously by almost setting up Antonio Colak with a blind back pass soon after Rangers scored, before providing a sumptuous centre for Firmino to make it 2-1.
As he lurked behind Leon King and pointed to precisely where he wanted the ball delivered, Firmino went from quiet influence to literal orchestrator, taking it upon himself to cajole the purest version of Klopp’s Reds – early 2017/18 – out of his teammates. It was flawed. It was fun. It was phenomenal. It was the most Liverpool this team has felt in some time. And it is no coincidence that that was by far his best goalscoring campaign since moving to Merseyside.
Liverpool’s quest to rediscover themselves brings Manchester City to Anfield next. Firmino played 33 of a possible 270 minutes against them this season but he has to start on Sunday. This personal remontada makes no real sense but then the committee have still yet to explain how they came up with the figure of £29million to sign him from Hoffenheim so don’t hold out any hope of an answer; just enjoy it while it lasts.