Fabinho praised in centre-back spot as Liverpool manage without Virgil Van Dijk
Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum believes Fabinho’s performance as a makeshift centre-back is a sign they can manage without Virgil Van Dijk.
The Brazil international was man of the match in the 1-0 victory over Ajax in their Champions League opener in Amsterdam, only their third clean sheet in their last 14 matches.
In the last four matches the holding midfielder has dropped into central defence and Liverpool have yet to concede against the likes of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Chelsea’s Timo Werner.
Manager Jurgen Klopp will hope Joel Matip has recovered from a minor problem to be fit to face Sheffield United on Saturday night but Fabinho’s display suggests he will be a more-than-adequate fall-back option.
“Fabinho is a great centre-back. The games he has played there, you can see he is comfortable in that position and he has done well each time,” said Wijnaldum.
“We haven’t conceded any goals when he has played at centre-back, so that’s a good sign. It is great he can play in different positions and he is doing a good thing for the team.”
Van Dijk, set for several months out with a knee ligament injury which requires surgery, sent a good luck message to the team ahead of the match but his Holland team-mate admits there is not too much football chat between the pair now.
The centre-back will have watched the game but he has not posted anything on social media about the performance and Wijnaldum said it was more important for his friend to focus on his recovery.
“Virgil sent a message, he wished us good luck in the group chat on WhatsApp,” added the Dutchman.
“For me I don’t think it is the right time to speak with Virgil about football, because football at this time is not important.
“I think for him and for me when we speak together, the most important thing is his rehab and those things.
“So when I speak to him it is more about Virgil Van Dijk, more about life than about football.
“It might change in a few months because then he will be much further into his rehab, but it is not the right time to speak about football with Virgil because at this moment it is not a good time for him and not the time to remind him of these things.”
Liverpool’s victory was a confidence booster as they had lost eight of their previous 14 away games in Europe.
It was, in fact, the first time they had won their opening away Champions League match since beating Marseille in 2008, having lost away at Napoli in the last two seasons and drawn against Spartak Moscow in Russia prior to that.
“It was good, we showed we are ready for the games. We had some problems but we controlled most of the game against a strong side,” said Wijnaldum.
“They are a good team so to start the Champions League campaign with a win is good – we lost against Napoli last season so it is better than that.”