By Anthony Evans @anthonyevans97
It may have taken a bit longer than Reds fans had hoped for, but Fabinho has now firmly established himself as an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s team that is hoping to win the club’s first league title in 29 years.
Expectations were high when Liverpool moved to sign the Brazilian from Monaco in the wake of the defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League Final last May.
Many saw the initial £39m fee that Klopp and FSG forked out for the midfielder as a bargain, given his performances for the French club, particularly in the 2016/17 season, where he helped Monaco win Ligue 1 and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
But the 25-year-old found his opportunities limited in the early months of the season. Jurgen Klopp has often adopted a policy of slowly integrating some of his new signings into the team, as shown with the likes of Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Fabinho had to wait until the game at home to Cardiff City on October 27th for his first league start.
It wasn’t until December that he really made his mark. The Brazilian set up Sadio Mane with a clever lofted pass over the top and picked up the Man of the Match award as Liverpool beat bitter rivals Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield. He then followed it up with another assist in a 2-0 victory at Wolves before scoring his first goal for the Reds against Newcastle on Boxing Day.
He has become one of the Klopp’s standout performers over the last few months and has been in the side in every Premier League fixture since the United game, regularly completing the full 90 minutes. He has made 26 appearances for the club so far this season across four competitions.
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The former Monaco and Real Madrid man’s versatility has also been crucial for Liverpool in recent months. Although Fabinho has predominantly played in his natural position as a defensive midfielder, either in a two in front of the back four or at the base of the midfield in a 4-3-3 formation, he has also filled in as a defender on a few of occasions.
With injuries to Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, Fabinho lined up as a centre back in an FA Cup tie away at Wolves last month. Although the visitors were deservedly beaten that night, the Brazilian’s own individual performance in an unfamiliar position, doubled with the fact that he ended up alongside playing alongside 16-year-old debutant Ki-Jana Hoever who had to replace the injured Dejan Lovren after just six minutes of play, earned him huge appraisal from fans and pundits alike.
He then played at the heart of the back four again in the Reds next match in the league, away at Brighton, and another solid and assured showing from the Brazil international helped the Reds to grind out three points in a 1-0 win.
His performance (again as a centre half) against Bayern Munich at Anfield a couple of weeks ago in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League also demonstrated his defensive qualities.
Liverpool lacked quality at the top end of the pitch and had to settle for a 0-0 draw, but at the back Fabinho and his defensive partner Joel Matip both performed magnificently in the air and on the ground, and kept Robert Lewandowski, one of the deadliest strikers on the planet, very quiet.
Although Kopites now fully appreciate Fabinho’s flexibility and his talents as a defender, (he also previously played as a right back at his former club Monaco), having him as a holding midfielder is where the 25-year-old can really shine. His awareness to read the game as well as his eagerness to put a foot in, has already endeared him to most Liverpool fans.
Whether Jurgen Klopp decides to go with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 in matches, Fabinho has proven that he is more than reliable in either formation.
Not since the days of Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and to an extent Steven Gerrard in the 2013/14 season, have the Reds had a genuine world-class midfield player who not only can win the ball back all over the pitch, but also have the vision, technique and range of passing to get the attacking players into dangerous positions.
Fabinho may just be that man..
By Anthony Evans @anthonyevans97