Following Liverpool’s euphoric win against Manchester United at Anfield, the Reds have not been short of plaudits. However, the standout performer of the match was Fabinho – Liverpool’s long awaited midfield enforcer.
Having arrived at Anfield early in the transfer window – and with a full pre-season campaign behind him – it was odd that fans had to wait so long to see the former Monaco man in action.
Fabinho didn’t feature in a Liverpool shirt until September, making a cameo against Paris Saint Germain in the opening game of the Champions League. He didn’t play a full 90 minutes until the end of October, in a 4-1 win against Cardiff.
Since then the Brazilian has been pretty much a mainstay in the starting XI. He has found himself to be one of the first names on the team sheet, endearing himself to the Anfield faithful already.
It’s a testament to the current climate of English football that a dominant midfield performance against Manchester United goes overlooked. But make no mistake about it — this was Fabinho’s best all-round performance since he joined the Reds.
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What little defensive work he had to do, he did seamlessly, constantly finding ways to snuff any hope of a counter-attack that United could muster. Furthermore, he was consistently looking to move the ball forward, demonstrating once more that he is the most progressive option for Liverpool at the base of midfield.
His forward-thinking attitude was epitomised by his assist for Sadio Mané’s goal. Finding himself open in the middle of the park around 30 yards out from goal, he opted for a delicate lobbed ball in behind United’s defensive line. It perfectly found the Senegalese forward’s run, allowing him time to take a touch and fire past David De Gea.
The best since Mascherano
More than anything, Fabinho represents a true holding midfielder in the Liverpool ranks — their first since Javier Mascherano left for the Nou Camp back in 2010. It could be that Fabinho offers more than Mascherano as an all-rounder.
So far this season, he has averaged 3.5 tackles per 90 minutes. The only other player close to this figure is James Milner, who tallies 2.4 tackles p/90. Fabinho has also made 0.8 dribbles p/90, more than Milner and Jordan Henderson and only slightly less than Georginio Wijnaldum
The No. 3 has been at his best when playing in a midfield two this season, typically paired alongside Wijnaldum. This has allowed a more offensive-minded player to move forward and link with the attacking trio.
The bulk of Fabinho’s performances have been impressive, leading Jürgen Klopp to change his formation to accommodate the Brazilian.
Though he faced scrutiny for it early on, Klopp was right to give Fabinho time to acclimatize to Liverpool’s high-intensity style of play. He showed similar patience with Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain last season. And just as they did with Robertson and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second half of 17/18, fans are now seeing the best out of the ex-Monaco man.
Key man for a key period
With the festive period upon us, Liverpool will be facing the most daunting segment of the fixture list.
For his past, Fabinho he will likely not be as fatigued as many others, having waded through the first few months.
Under Klopp’s watchful eye, Fabinho has quickly become a key figure at Anfield.
We are seeing the glue that held a title-winning Monaco side together (ending PSG’s monopoly over French football) come into his own, and the best is still yet to come.