A former Red insists that the Brazilian forward is just as crucial to Jurgen Klopp’s plans as a certain Argentine is to Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou
Firmino moved to Anfield from German club Hoffenheim back in 2015 and has since racked up over 200 appearances for the Reds across all competitions.
The 28-year-old has only managed to score a modest 69 goals during that time, but his all-round contribution has been hugely significant.
The Brazilian forms one-third of an all-star attacking triumvirate alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, acting as a target man in a central role linking the play, while also creating openings in the final third at will.
Firmino has three goals and three assists to his name from eight outings already this term, earning widespread praise from fans and experts alike.
McAteer, who played for Liverpool between 1995 and 1999, has compared the influential forward to Barcelona’s Messi, who has been revered by many as the world’s finest footballer for over a decade.
“They have had some great number nines and Roberto Firmino makes this side tick,” the ex-Reds midfielder told the Racing Post.
“Brendan Rodgers couldn’t work out where to play him when he was first at the club, trying him out on the left. Then Klopp came along with his 4-3-3 system featuring a hard-working midfield and explosive front three.
“They needed a magician in that attack who pulls everything together and it is similar to how Lionel Messi has played in a Barcelona team set up around him. Firmino is Liverpool’s Messi. When he’s not in the team you can see how detrimental his absence is.
“He didn’t play the first half in the UEFA Super Cup but came on at the break and instantly made an impact as they created a lot of chances. The system suits Mo Salah and Sadio Mane but it is Firmino who makes it all work – without him, Liverpool are a different animal.”
Jurgen Klopp’s men hold an eight-point lead at the top of the table after a blistering start to the season and haven’t lost in the league since being beaten by City at the Etihad Stadium on January 3.
There has been some suggestion Liverpool could emulate Arsenal’s unbeaten 2003-2004 campaign, but McAteer is not convinced, pointing to a tough run of fixtures over the next two months which will test the squad to its limits.
“Can they go the Premier League season unbeaten? I wouldn’t have a punt on it,” he added. “There are too many games to go and it is still early in the season. The big question is if Liverpool can get over the line and win the title. They have roughly 15 games through November and December and have to go to Qatar for the Club World Cup.
“Their squad is just starting to be stretched a little at the moment and we are at the point where Klopp needs to start rotating regularly and really utilise his substitutes.”