The Brazilian was the standout performer for Jurgen Klopp's side who secured their place in the Champions League quarter finals with a 4-0 win on aggregate.
At first, Fabinho struggled to hold down a place in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team. Signed for £43.7 million in the 2018 summer transfer window, the Brazilian arrived at Anfield from Monaco with a big reputation, but it wasn’t clear what his role in his new side would be. Now, though, Liverpool are relying on Fabinho to perform two or three roles.
Injuries to Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk have forced Fabinho into a centre back position for much of the season. It’s a role the 27-year-old can perform well, possessing the natural instinct to track runners and cover space. Those instincts have saved Liverpool more than once over the past few months.
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However, for all his admirable versatility, Fabinho’s performance in the Champions League last 16 second leg win over RB Leipzig proved why Klopp still needs the Brazilian in the centre of the pitch. That’s where he has the greatest influence. That’s where he is most valuable to Liverpool.
In a season which has seen Liverpool slip to a lowly eighth place in the Premier League table on the back of six straight home defeats, the Champions League has been where the Reds have found their best form. Indeed, the two 2-0 victories over RB Leipzig must go down as two of their best performances of the whole season.
With the exception of a 10-minute spell of pressure from the Germans, which saw Alexander Sorloth strike the crossbar, Liverpool dominated the match at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in Budapest. Deployed in a midfield unit alongside Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho was at his best.
It wasn’t just in the way Fabinho gave Liverpool a greater degree of control than they have had in any match in recent weeks, it was in the protection he provided an inexperienced centre back pairing of Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips. Nobody in red made more interceptions (four) or more recoveries (eight) and only Thiago Alcantara made more tackles.
The presence of Fabinho in midfield appeared to liberate Thiago. Without having too much defensive responsibility heaped on him, the Spaniard was allowed to focus on creating. Had his teammates been sharper in front of goal, he would have finished the match with at least one assist.
Thiago has generally underwhelmed since his summer move from Bayern Munich, but this performance offered a hint of what he might be capable of when Liverpool’s structure as a unit is restored. Fabinho gave him the freedom to perform the role he was signed to perform in the first place.
“I told him on the way downstairs that you like this position, six, more than the other one, eh?” Klopp laughed in his post-match interview. “He couldn’t have shown it more clearly. We all want Fab in the number six [position]. Tonight he played there and the two centre halves played an incredible game. The whole last line played a really good game because that’s a really tough ask against Leipzig.”
Until injuries clear, the centre of defence will remain a vulnerability in Liverpool’s team, but Klopp might be best using Fabinho as a protective barrier in front of two natural centre backs rather than moving the Brazilian back into defence himself. This would at least preserve the bones of Liverpool’s structure.
The comprehensive win over a RB Leipzig currently fighting for the Bundesliga title suggests the Champions League could offer Liverpool some salvation this season. On this showing, Klopp’s side mustn’t be discounted, but Fabinho playing as a midfielder rather than a central defender could be key to their chances.
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