Article by Sam McGuire @SamMcGuire90
Liverpool haven’t yet played their first pre-season match but they’ve already made their biggest summer signing. He’s not the flashiest of names and the haste in which the club completed the deal meant he wasn’t a player fans yearned for, but Fabinho’s arrival is a game changer for the Reds.
The Brazilian midfielder swapped Monaco for Merseyside in a deal worth around £40million in May. There was no hype prior to the announcement. It went from interest to an official unveiling in a matter of hours. In the current climate, the fee the Champions League finalists paid to secure his signing could be described as modest, too.
Those factors, coupled with it being the World Cup, played a huge part in the 24-year-old’s arrival going somewhat under the radar. Fans are happy, undoubtedly, but there’s not been as much pressure, if any, placed on the broad shoulders of the gangly South American destroyer. He’s still not even got a number.
It shows how far the Reds have come in a small space of time.
Just 12 months ago, the fee Liverpool parted with would’ve been a club record. But Jurgen Klopp and the recruitment team have been busy. Virgil van Dijk arrived for around the £75million mark and Naby Keita traded the Bundesliga for the Premier League in a deal believed to the in the region of £52million. The Reds were also prepared to part with a further £54million for Nabil Fekir if reports are to be believed.
They’re competing with Europe’s elite both on the pitch as well as off of it. Fans have eagerly embraced this new Liverpool way. It meant not many people batted an eyelid when the cost of Fabinho was revealed. And this will work in the one-time Real Madrid man’s favour.
He signed as a rival to Jordan Henderson as the holding midfielder and as a replacement for Emre Can. It’s clear, as detailed in a piece on Football Whispers, that he’s an upgrade on the recently departed Germany international.
It’s evident when looking at the stats, taken from the 2017/18 campaign, they show that Liverpool’s newest signing averaged more open-play key passes and had a higher expected goals assisted number.
He also played more of his passes forward, possibly because Can was used further forward, and successfully completed more dribbles while winning more tackles and interceptions.
For added context, Can was in the top ten for midfielders in the Premier League with the most tackles and interceptions on a per 90-minute basis. He’s no slouch in that area yet Fabinho is comfortably clear.
Not only will he fill the void left by the former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, the £40million signing could also help breathe new life into Henderson’s Liverpool career.
The captain is a divisive character but one thing the majority of the fanbase can agree on is that the Liverpool No.14 looked much better playing in a box-to-box role before he transitioned into a holding midfielder. He has limitations there but his athleticism and energy made it easy to understand why Klopp utilised him there. He was there to sweep up, cover for the full-backs and keep play ticking over. And he did just that.
But it always appeared as though the England International was playing within himself and fans weren’t seeing the 2013/14 version of the £20million signing. The back-heeling energiser bunny who terrorised teams during Liverpool’s memorable campaign under Brendan Rodgers.
His form picked up towards the end of last season and it coincided with him being given much more of a freer role, with Gini Wijnaldum operating more as a number six from time to time. It gave fans a glimpse into what the future might look like if Henderson didn’t have to be the deepest midfielder.
Throughout the German tactician’s time in charge at Anfield, he’s never really had a sustained period in which he was able to use his skipper in a box-to-box role. Injuries to various midfielders meant Can, Henderson’s only real rival for a start at the base of the system, was deployed in different roles.
But in Fabinho, Liverpool now have a player who can do what Henderson did. He gobbles up ground to quell attacks, he’s intelligent and knows how to position himself having previously been a full-back and he recycles the ball well. He’s got experience playing in a two-man midfield and there shouldn’t be any reservations about using him in a three-man set-up. His flexibility gives Liverpool even more options.
He can play the six role and this allows Klopp to deploy Henderson in what many consider to be his more natural position. That’s not the only positive to Fabinho.
Keita is as unique as they come. He’s a Jack of all trades, master of everything type of player and getting the best of him is going to be at the top of Klopp’s to-do list next season.
He’s a special player. It’s why Liverpool were prepared to wait an entire year to make it official.
Unafraid to carry the ball and beat the opposition, Keita has a way of keeping the ball. It’s not orthodox and at times it’s not easy on the eye, but it doesn’t have to be. He takes out the defensive lines and he creates space for others. He’s incisive when in possession and 36 per cent of his passes go forward. For context, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson plays 29 per cent of his forward, Gini Wijnaldum averages 22 per cent and the now departed Emre Can averaged 20 per cent.
Even more impressively, Keita completed more dribbles per 90 (3.07) than Henderson, Wijnaldum and Can managed as a collective (3.05).
He thrives no matter where he’s instructed to play on the pitch. But he can’t be expected to do everything and be everything. It’s impractical. Many have been wondering how the boss would unleash the whirlwind that is Keïta onto the Premier League without it having an impact on the team as a defensive unit.
It’s why Klopp’s decision to bring in Fabinho is a masterstroke. The Brazilian destroyer allows Keita to do Keita things without it being to the detriment of the balance. Fabinho is the ideal counterweight to the former RB Leipzig dynamo.
It’s clear, however, that he will have a positive impact on a number of players. He’s the biggest signing the Reds have made and it’s unlikely to be topped.
Article by Sam McGuire @SamMcGuire90