Jack Hallows believes the way that Jürgen Klopp is bedding his new midfield signing Fabinho into the squad is nothing out of the ordinary.
Liverpool’s summer snaring of Fabinho came as a really pleasant surprise for almost everyone involved with Liverpool Football Club.
The Reds had been evidently in the market for a new deep-lying midfielder with links to Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton and Jorginho – formerly of Napoli, now of Chelsea – rife in the transfer speculation-sphere.
The thing about both of these players, however, is that neither is your typical “holding” midfield player.
Both can and do regularly operate as a ‘6’ but instead of being the all action, destroyer that many top teams like to field in this position – look at Casemiro of Real Madrid for example – both are more in the ball-playing, shuttling mould that a manager like Pep Guardiola would covet for example.
This made sense ultimately as Liverpool’s first-choice in the position over the last two campaigns Jordan Henderson also fits that mould – as does Gini Wijnaldum when fielded in the position.
Fabinho, on the other hand, is your much more ‘run-of-the-mill’ defensive midfielder stylistically and while he still possesses an impressive passing range, it’s tackles, interceptions and defensive organisation that more readily define his game.
His time spent as a full-back for AS Monaco has given him a readily developed knowledge of how to defend one-on-one situations while also aiding in his ability to read the game and sense danger while his team is both in and out of possession.
Aside from the sideways pass agenda squad, this ability to sense danger defensively has been Jordan Henderson’s biggest criticism during his time as a ‘6’ for Liverpool.
The former Sunderland midfielder is an able tackler and his ability to cut passing lanes is certainly underrated but there are certainly occasions where he is caught out – especially when opposition sides look to counter-attack.
The signing of Fabinho is evidently designed to give Liverpool a new dimension in this position, shoring them up against the threat of opposition counters while bringing with him a knowledge of when to cover the marauding full-backs and a slightly more physical presence at set pieces.
With all this considered, it was expected that Fabinho would start the Premier League season as one of Liverpool’s first-choice midfielders, especially given he was present for the entirety of pre-season.
However, the Brazilian was merely on the bench against West Ham after a combination of a slight knock and illness interrupted his training week, before not even being included in the match-day squad for the trip to Crystal Palace.
Fans have taken to Twitter to voice their concern over the matter, wondering whether Fabinho is struggling with an injury problem, whether he hasn’t quite managed to settle or even going as far as to suggest the club is regretting spending £40m on him.
For me, this is simply Jürgen Klopp taking the usual conservative approach to his new signing.
The German has already insinuated during pre-season that the Brazilian may take a little while to fully adapt to Liverpool’s style of play given how different the type of football his former club Monaco utilise is to that of his new employers.
Klopp revealed back then that he has no worries over the ability to make a positive difference on Merseyside of his new midfield signings but that given Naby Keïta’s experience playing in a high-tempo, counter-pressing system at Leipzig, he fully expected the Guinean to settle at a much quicker rate.
It’s also worth noting that Klopp has priors with this kind of thing at Liverpool.
Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain and Andrew Robertson both became firm fan favourites last season, instating themselves as first choice midfielder and left back respectively during the second half of the season.
However, both took a solid four months or so to properly bed in and adapt to what their new manager wanted from them and as a result, were seldom seen up until the New Year.
Chamberlain, in particular, was encouraged to “remove Arsenal’s shackles” by Klopp, with the German preferring to nurture the Englishman’s direct pace and quality on the ball rather than look to suppress it as his former boss had done.
Robertson meanwhile was simply a case of crossing the ball far too often without getting his head up.
Where at Hull the Scottish full-back was encouraged to get the ball into the box at head height for big strikers to nod in, it’s a different game at Liverpool.
The Reds play with a front three that don’t break the 6-foot mark height-wise and sending in cross after cross – no matter how inviting they are for a traditional centre forward – is very rarely going to yield results.
Instead, the Scot was encouraged to continue learning and put his excellent delivery to use in another way, refining his ability to overlap, allowing left-winger Sadio Mané to get closer to goal and providing an overload of bodies down the left-flank.
Once in good positions to deliver, Robertson was now far more adept at getting his head up and driving the ball low and hard across the six-yard box, providing tap in opportunities for the likes of Mo Salah at the far post.
So, how does this relate back to Fabinho?
Klopp and Michael Edwards will have identified traits of the Brazilian’s game that they feel will not only suit Liverpool but add to their already impressive array of talent, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered signing him!
What Klopp now has to do, is give the player his patience and allow him the chance to work on bringing those attributes to the fore of his game and potentially, try to remove some of the tactical muscle memory he would have developed at Monaco.
In France, Fabinho operated in a double pivot, frequently covering the full backs – especially Benjamin Mendy in their title-winning 2016/17 season – as they pushed high and wide up the pitch, creating almost a 2-2-4-2 shape in attack.
For Liverpool, he will mostly be asked to play as the single holding player in a 4-3-3 and while his job will entail covering for Robertson and Trent as they push high up the field, he’ll mostly be found sitting in between ‘VVD’ and Joe Gomez as an almost auxiliary centre back.
The Reds also average higher possession rates than Monaco, preferring to win the ball back when they lose it and dominate games. The French side, on the other hand, was effectively a much more counter-attacking team, especially when they possessed the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva.
Liverpool still employ deadly counter-attacks when they can but the nature of the Premier League seems to dictate that only the big boys will really come out and play against the Reds, the rest of the teams in the league preferring to employ a low block and make them work to score their goals.
Like many-a-player joining the Premier League from abroad, Fabinho is going to take a little time to properly bed into his new surroundings, click with his new teammates and adopt completely to what it is his new manager wants from him. It’s only natural.
Given time, I firmly believe the Brazilian will be a huge addition to Liverpool and give them the commanding, defensive presence they’ve longed for in midfield since Javier Mascherano left the club for Barcelona a decade ago.