Jack Hallows believes that Fabinho has been worth the wait in a Liverpool showing after the Brazilian’s monster showing against United.
Once again, I have to give it to Jürgen Klopp.
A large portion of our fanbase were bewildered during the earliest stages of this season when the Reds shiny new £45m defensive midfielder wasn’t even seen fit to bench warm, ignoring Klopp’s assertions that there was still work for the Brazilian to do.
Logic and past experience dictated that Klopp, who did the same with Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain last season, was taking the right course of action.
The former Monaco midfielder had operated in a very different system with very different team mates during his time at Monaco and would need time to bed in.
Not only that, Klopp would need time himself to figure out the best way to incorporate the Reds no.3 into the starting XI and find a role in which both felt comfortable to have him playing in.
There had been positive signs before the United fixture, good showings against Fulham and Red Star at home alongside impressive outings in the Merseyside derby and the trip to Bournemouth.
However, with the Brazilian having missed both legs of the PSG match up in the Champions League and struggling against Arsenal, you’d have been forgiven for thinking he wouldn’t feature against the Mancs.
Klopp however backed his man and boy did he make the right decision on that front!
When Liverpool went up against United late last season at Old Trafford, Mourinho looked to bypass the Reds’ midfield and get from the defensive third to the offensive third with as little an amount of passes as possible.
The Reds had Emre Can in the ‘6’ during that fixture, a player who despite his height, was capable but never particularly accomplished in the air. This meant that Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk were forced to step out from the back every time a long ball was slung over the top, exposing the rest of the defence every time the Belgian won his headers.
It showed for both goals the Reds conceded that day, with the first in particular being the perfect example of route one football. Long ball from De Gea, Lukaku draws out Lovren, beats him in the air, Rashford runs through on goal and scores.
This time however, while Mourinho looked to do the same thing once again – leading pundits to amusingly slam Manchester United’s lack of a midfielder who can actually pass a football – Klopp countered with the presence of Fabinho.
The Brazilian’s height and aerial presence meant he was able to challenge Lukaku aerially when long balls were played, allowing Lovren and Van Dijk to sit off slightly and track the potentially dangerous runs of Lingard and Rashford.
It’s telling then, that Lukaku only won 22% of his attempted aerial duels on Sunday to continue a trend of miserable personal trips to Anfield.
It also meant that Robertson and Clyne could stay high and wide on the wings, providing the opportunity for Salah, Mané and Naby Keïta who played on the left, to make runs into the box and hold a narrow position.
Having planned for a 4-3-3, Mourinho’s defence were now bewildered as to where the Reds attackers were going to pop up next with Mané operating from the right in particular causing a number of issues.
The other most notable string to Fabinho’s bow – which was particularly evident against Manchester United – is how positive the midfielder is on the ball.
Against Mourinho’s men, Fabinho only played two backward passes the entire game. He attempted 67 overall, sending 28 of those forwards! That’s almost 50% of his passes!
Where on first introduction to Liverpool the former Monaco man did admittedly look a little slow and ponderous, his confidence and speed of thought has finally started to build and his ability to put his foot on the ball, get his head up and ping the ball to team mates is incredible.
While he doesn’t quite possess the range that someone like say Henderson does, with Virgil van Dijk sitting behind him he doesn’t need to. The Dutchman can take care of the raking diagonals and switches of play if needs be, while Fabinho is able to play within a shorter range, keeping hold of the ball but progressing the play at the same time.
59 of his 67 passes were played along the ground but he also showed the ability to play delightfully chipped balls too – not least with the sublime assist for Sadio Mané’s opener.
The main beneficiary of Fabinho’s presence though? Roberto Firmino.
Despite not scoring or assisting, the Brazilian forward had his best game in a Liverpool shirt this season and perhaps one of his top five ever.
Fielded as a ’10’ once again in Klopp’s new 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 style system, Fabinho’s willingness to win the ball back high up the field and ping the ball forwards into feet brought his international team mate into the game in some style and the pair built up an impressive in-game partnership.
Firmino had 101 touches of the ball during the match, made 72 passes, completed 2 of 3 dribbles and despite not scoring, took 9 shots – all but two from inside the area and one of which was very nearly a superb toe poked goal while surrounded by United defenders.
With how important Firmino is to getting Liverpool playing well, if Fabinho really can ‘unlock’ his international team mate then Klopp just has yet another reason to field the no.3 in the heart of his defence with far more regularity.