Cody Gakpo is expected to become the new Roberto Firmino for Liverpool, but another man could also shoulder much of the workload as Jürgen Klopp’s ‘connector’.
Since 2016, Roberto Firmino has been responsible for knitting things together for Liverpool on the attacking side of the game. A shrewd and cultured technician, he’s proved to be comfortable when picking up the ball in the tightest spaces on the field.
Firmino is a master at keeping the ball when he’s under pressure, and he provides a glue of sorts in the final third for those around him. The Brazilian international engages in dialog with his deeper teammates while opening up valuable spaces for his pacey allies — such as Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez — to exploit and maximize.
Firmino is almost a midfielder by nature. He likes to drift away from the penalty box, linking with others in packed areas and creating pockets of space to cause problems for his opponents, having been described by Klopp as a ‘connector’ in the past.
Those with football knowledge know how important he is,” said Klopp around two years ago. “I’m pretty sure people will write books about how he interpreted the false nine position. I won’t say he invented it, but the way he plays it, it looks like it.”
Now 31 years old, his spell on Merseyside will end after eight years this summer. His contract is due to expire, with the South American deciding to call time on his Liverpool career by changing clubs at the end of the campaign.
Klopp is tasked with replacing his unique presence, and he appeared destined to do so through his use of Cody Gakpo, who arrived as a new signing from PSV Eindhoven in the January transfer window.
The Dutchman is a work in progress as Firmino’s heir, but he could be helped in his quest by another Reds player. On Sunday afternoon, Klopp offered an insight into a second player who could shoulder much of the load as Liverpool guards against the loss of their special number nine.
Speaking before his team’s heavyweight bout against Manchester United, the German coach was asked about his decision to include Harvey Elliott in his starting line-up. In his reasoning, Klopp labeled the young starlet as a ‘connecting player’, which could be associated with Firmino’s ‘connector’ tag.
Although Elliott doesn’t occupy the same advanced position on the pitch, he does seem capable of seeing the full picture and linking the play with his close control and smart decisions on the ball.
In Liverpool’s remarkable 7-0 victory over the Red Devils, no player on the pitch accumulated more progressive passes than Elliott, who ranked joint-top alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold. He also assisted the second goal of the game, and placed behind only Salah and Andy Robertson for completed passes into the penalty box.
Elliott also ranked second for progressive passes received, behind only Salah. Despite playing in central midfield around the likes of Casemiro, the 19-year-old was a constant passing option for those around him.
Still a teenager, speculating about what Elliott could become by the age of 25 is an exciting prospect. With Gakpo also just aged 23, the $49m (£41m/€46m) pair could ensure that Liverpool refrains from suffering without Firmino, acting as an unlikely duo for the best part of the next decade at Anfield.