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The rivalries that exist in English football are the lifeblood of the game, but how do they look to someone who is still finding his feet in the Premier League? We caught up with Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, who has swapped a relatively calm existence at Hoffenheim for the goldfish bowl of Anfield.
Rabona: You could have been playing Everton in the League Cup final, which would have been a huge occasion in English football. How aware are you of the Merseyside rivalry?
Roberto Firmino: Of course I’m aware that the Merseyside derby is a special rivalry, with the two stadiums being so close. I didn’t play against them ear- lier this season [a 1-1 draw in October] because I was injured, but I look forward to my first chance to play in a derby match. It will be a great occasion. Every- one loves football in this city.
Rabona: Liverpool also count Manchester United amongst their enemies. Did you notice a special edge when you played against them?
Robert Firmino: That I did notice, yes. It’s a big derby, and a match that is watched all over the world. I found both games that I played against them to be at a very high level, with a very high intensity. They were tough.
Rabona: It’s been an interesting first season for you in English football. Did you expect it to be like this?
Robert Firmino: Pretty much. I knew what to expect from English football because I used to watch it on television. I knew that it was nice to watch and I had a feeling that it would be great to play in. You need to prepare a lot for every match, as it’s very fast. You need to have a lot of strength against every rival. It’s great. I’m very happy here. I’m going to work hard to be a success here for as long as I can.
Rabona: Is the pace of the game the main difference to the Bundesliga?
Robert Firmino: Yes. The matches are a lot faster here. The ball doesn’t stop, so the match doesn’t stop!
Rabona: Jürgen Klopp has spoken a lot about the sheer number of matches that are played in England, and how that has surprised him. Do you feel the same?
Robert Firmino: Yes, it’s crazy. Really, really crazy. But I really like it! I always want to play football, and so this is perfect for me, but as a team we need to be fully ready for all of the matches, so it is important that after each one we fully recover and then be ready again for the next one.
Rabona: Presumably having Klopp coming in as manager in October 2015 helped you settle in? Does he speak to you in German?
Robert Firmino: Yes, I can speak to him in German, but we try to speak in English. I can speak a little English already and I’m learning more and more. It did help me when the manager came in, but he didn’t just come in to help me, he came in to help the whole group. He’s changed the way we train, the way we play, our tactics and our mentality. Everybody feels good with him, so it is a happy group.
Rabona: You must have come up against him a few times in Germany. Did you have a good record against him?
Robert Firmino: It was okay. Not too bad! His Dortmund teams were always very good, but I think we (Hoffenheim) always played well against them. I remember two wins and two defeats in the Bundesliga, and I also remember a very close cup match in which I scored, but unfortunately we lost.
Rabona: He says that he sees you as a striker, and you’ve got some goals recently playing there. Is that your best position?
Robert Firmino: I don’t really mind where I play. Wherever the manager puts me in the team is fine by me. As long as I am playing and helping the team reach our objectives then I’m happy.
Rabona: And what are those objectives? What would constitute a successful season for Liverpool?
Robert Firmino: We just need to keep going one game at a time, step by step. We’ve had some good games and some bad ones. We have a lot of competitions and a lot of matches to play, but we always need to be prepared for the next challenge, that’s what the manager is saying to us every day.
Rabona: And for you? Have you set yourself a goals target for the season?
Robert Firmino: Well my first thought is always the team, but I like to score goals and of course I’ve set myself a target for the season. I’m not telling you what it is though!
Rabona: South American players have flourished at Liverpool in recent years. Why do you think that is, and are you confident you can follow suit?
Robert Firmino: Yes, I hope to follow some of the great names to have played here, and I can use them as inspiration to do well. I’m lucky because I have fellow Brazilians here in Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho, and they have been hugely important in helping me settle into the club and the city, as I’m sure they were for other players to come here. They are great friends and I’m really glad they’re here.
Rabona: Luis Suarez was loved by the fans at Liverpool. Is he a player that you watch and try to learn from?