Firmino v Depay: Liverpool FC’s big summer hope faces first clash with ‘the one who got away’



Huge game for Brazilian as Reds seek to show Dutch winger he made wrong choice in May.

Roberto Firmino will come face to face with one of the key factors in his £29m summer move to Liverpool on Saturday evening – and he’ll be wearing the opposition kit.

For it’s safe to say that if Memphis Depay had decided on Anfield rather than Old Trafford earlier this year, Firmino’s much-heralded switch to Merseyside from Hoffenheim would never have got off the ground.

Dutch winger Depay had been scouted by Liverpool for months at PSV Eindhoven and many Reds fans were already excitedly contemplating the possibility of the 21-year-old furthering his career with Liverpool.

But on May 7 – with the Reds’ season lurching towards that dreadful denouement two weeks later at the Britannia – the Dutch winger agreed a £25m move to Manchester United, crucially renewing a link-up with his former Holland manager in Louis van Gaal.

What had appeared a ray of light in a stuttering Liverpool season had suddenly become the darkest of dead-ends.

The club hierarchy – as is the way of these things – officially denied any desire to make a deal for the player, despite meeting with Depay on Merseyside and making him a contract offer.

Rodgers told his press conference just a day later that “it wasn’t one we were ever interested in”, adding “he’s obviously a talented young player. But we already have four wingers at the club.

“We’ve got young Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, so we’ll have other priorities we’re looking at for the summer.”

Two of those, of course, have since departed Anfield, Sterling himself to Manchester just over two months later while Markovic was loaned to Turkey before August was out. Ibe too finds himself without a starting place and Lallana, well, is injured.

Did Sturridge surgery really change Liverpool’s transfer priorities?
Suddenly Liverpool’s options for width look none too clever, as West Ham’s centre-back heavy defence exploited at Anfield less than two weeks ago.

Liverpool’s pursuit of Depay was though confirmed by PSV’s director Marcel Brands who said: “I didn’t speak with Brendan Rodgers. I had contact with Ian Ayre. I know there were some problems with (Daniel) Sturridge, maybe that changed the decision. But Man United were very fast and that changed the decision for Memphis. He made the final decision. He made his choice.”

The need for Daniel Sturridge to have surgery has been mooted as a game changer for Liverpool in their pursuit of the Dutch winger, with a narrative that the club’s priorities were immediately switched to a central striker and the deal simply went cold.

Yet that seems unlikely given the timeline of how events unfolded.

Depay was formally confirmed as a Manchester United player on June 12. Ian Ayre was putting a shirt on Firmino’s back in Chile less than two weeks later, on June 24. The deal had already been done, the player later confirmed, but this time Liverpool were taking no chances.

That prioritising of a central striker was not dealt with until Christian Benteke’s £32.5m arrival was announced on July 21, almost a month later.

Deals finally done then, but to what end?

Firmino’s late return from the Copa America saw him emerge from the bench for the Reds’ first two starts, before starting against Arsenal and West Ham.

As yet though it is difficult to get an accurate gauge on his qualities.

We do not yet know who or what Firmino can be in a Reds shirt
A fabulous cross for Benteke only allowed Peter Cech to advertise his qualities at the Emirates while the width of the post stopped the 23-year-old putting an early stop to West Ham’s Anfield parade with a stunning 25 -yarder.

The stats tell us Firmino has completed 73% of his passes this season compared to Depay’s 79%, has created four chances to Depay’s two and has a shot accuracy of 33% compared to the Dutchman’s 44%.

They mean little at this stage though.

Quite simply we do not yet know even who or what Roberto Firmino is and can be in a Red shirt.

Depay’s main contribution along the East Lancs has been in the two stunning goals he scored against FC Brugge in a Champions League play-off, setting up another and even prompting van Gaal to suggest he “wanted to kiss him”.

Liverpool lips meanwhile were being bitten, hard as it was not to believe a reasonable chunk of that transfer fee had already been repaid.

Yet his season has been far from straightforward. This week he was compared to Bond villain Goldfinger after the Dutch national team’s disastrous losses to Iceland and Turkey.

Reds’ fans will be hoping Firmino, in the absence of compatriot Coutinho through suspension, can provide them with a Quantum of Solace on Saturday as opportunity knocks for the first leading performance of his own.

Posted by on Sep 10 2015. Filed under Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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