Liverpool are a different team when Fabinho plays in the midfield

The Brazilian has played a lot of matches as a centre-back for the Reds this season due to the injuries suffered by their defenders.

Fabinho in a file photo; Credit: Fabinho Twitter

There can be multiple reasons behind Liverpool’s mighty collapse this season. For a team that won the Premier League title with seven games to spare last season, it is difficult to explain the reason behind their fall from grace in this term. A lot of fingers will be pointed at their defensive players getting unfortunate injuries. Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have missed most part of the season. In particular, van Dijk’s absence has been difficult for the team to cope with. He has been their most reliable centre-back since joining from Southampton in January 2018.

The Dutchman played a crucial role in Liverpool winning the Champions League and the Premier League titles in back-to-back years. His absence was undoubtedly felt in the dressing room and on the pitch. As a result, Brazilian midfielder Fabinho played as a make-shift centreback for better part of the season. He did look solid in that position, but in his absence, the midfield suffered. The team has struggled to exert their dominance in the middle of the park since then.

Preston centre back Ben Davies joined the Reds in January along with Turkey defender Ozan Kabak, who moved to Anfield on loan from Schalke. Despite their arrivals, Jurgen Klopp – for some reason – continued to play Fabinho as a centre-back in most games. However, the Brazilian started playing as a midfielder in the last few games and the Reds have been reaping their rewards from it. Liverpool have won their last five Premier League games when he was back in midfield.

Back to midfield

The biggest of the lot was the 4-2 victory at Old Trafford. Fabinho did what Fabinho does best. Sitting in front of centre-backs Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips, he controlled the tempo playing in the middle, closing down the opponents when not in possession, recovering the ball, and passing it quickly to his teammates. The Brazilian was their unsung hero as Klopp’s side bossed the midfield to win the game in a dominant fashion.

When asked about Liverpool doing well when he plays in midfield, Fabinho gave a modest reply. “I always enjoy to play with this shirt, to play with my teammates and I always try to do my best as a midfielder or as a centre-back,” he was quoted by Liverpoolfc.com.

“We had five wins in the last five times I played [as a] midfielder, that doesn’t mean we win the game because I’m there! But if I can help the team to get the win, to play better, I’m really happy.”

Stating that his job is to protect the defence, Fabinho said, “I always try to be in the best position to recover the ball, to protect the defence – it doesn’t matter who are the centre-backs. Rhys and Nat played a really good game.”

Thiago benefitting from Fabinho

Another player benefited from Fabinho playing in the middle is Thiago Alcantara. The Spaniard has struggled to have the same kind of impact he had with Bayern Munich in their treble-winning campaign last year. But, he looks a better when playing alongside the Brazilian in the midfield.

Fabinho takes up the responsibility of closing down the opponents and winning the ball back. He basically does all the dirty work, allowing Thiago to solely focus on his game – passing the ball to the forward players as quickly as possible. Sitting alongside Fabinho, Thiago can control the tempo of the game and dominate the midfield battle.

“Thiago is someone special. He’s a really good player and I can have good communication with him between games because we both speak Portuguese, so I really understand Thiago. He’s a really good player with a lot of quality and now he’s getting confidence and it’s really important for him because he can play all the games, he can be important for us,” Fabinho added.

One thing is clear if Liverpool are to finish in the top four places then Fabinho needs to play in the middle for their remaining three games. Provided Thiago can find maintain his form, the pair can dominate the midfield battles in all those matches. Fabinho could very well be the ‘X-factor’ in Liverpool’s push for Champions League qualification.




WRITTEN BY
Karthik Raman

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