Fabinho’s performance as defensive deputy gives Liverpool reasons to cheer
A vote of confidence from Virgil Van Dijk appears to have reinforced manager Jurgen Klopp’s hunch in gambling on utilising midfielder Fabinho as an auxiliary centre-back.
The Brazil international, who did play right-back for previous club Monaco, has established himself as one of the best holding midfielders in the game but injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – following the sale of Dejan Lovren – left Klopp short of cover for the trip to Chelsea.
Just over a week ago the Reds manager had said he would look for a “creative solution” to the problem but he could not have envisaged having to implement the plan so soon.
But on first impressions it appears a sound one as Fabinho put in a commanding display against their top-four rivals and £48million new striker Timo Werner, albeit it facing 10 men for half the game.
The Brazilian led his team’s statistics in both tackles and interceptions made, gained possession and successful passes and, at 101, had the second-most touches.
“I just told him I think he was man of the match. To keep out a striker like [Timo] Werner and don’t let him score, overall he was outstanding,” Van Dijk told liverpoolfc.com.
“Everyone knows how good he is but it shows also that we need everyone.
“We are a bit unlucky with the injuries now but we’ll need everyone back because it’s such a long season.”
Fabinho’s qualities as a midfielder brought an added dimension to Liverpool’s defence, with the 26-year-old playing almost like a sweeper in front of the last line, regularly stepping higher up the pitch to engage with Werner or Kai Havertz when dropped deep.
His reading of the game gave him the confidence to do so and his passing ability and ball-carrying capabilities meant there was also an offensive dimension to his role.
“Yes if Sadio (Mane) hadn’t scored two goals Fab would have been a good contender for man of the match,” agreed Klopp.
“He played very well and he was outstanding, he defended very well and helped us a lot with the ball.”
Fabinho moving into central defence also gives Liverpool another option in midfield following the arrival of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich and he too was thrown into the action earlier – and for longer – than expected after Jordan Henderson reported a minor problem with his thigh.
The Spain international came on at half-time and completed more passes (75) than any Chelsea player managed in the entire match.
Since full passing data was made available for the Premier League in 2003-04 that total was the most by a player who played a maximum of 45 minutes.
He was somewhat helped by Chelsea being reduced to 10 men after Andreas Christensen’s sending-off just before the break and then sitting back and allowing their visitors to dictate the game.
But in that short period of time the 29-year-old showed what he can offer up against tightly-packed defences with a number of clever touches and passes and a willingness.
“We signed Thiago for different reasons, and only one of them is his play against deep defending sides,” added Klopp.
“We’ve improved in that department a lot with all the players that were there before.
“But it suits him, it’s natural for him, so that’s good. That’s one reason of a lot of reasons.”