Fabinho wasn’t quite his usual self against Southampton but that was necessary for the long-term.
This was Fabinho’s first Premier League start since Crystal Palace on November 23rd. He made a few mistakes, wasn’t quite shielding the defence as well as he can and his passing was hit and miss. But for his first league start in two months, no one should have expected an elite showing.
Especially as Liverpool found a brilliant groove in his absence. Jordan Henderson reverted back to the holding role and Liverpool kept clean-sheet after clean-sheet. That’s something they really hadn’t done with Fabinho there.
But that was always quite strange. Fabinho was playing wonderfully, after all, and everyone understandably assumed the defence would struggle without the £39m man.
That great form proved everyone wrong, though. And it even left doubts over Fabinho’s immediate future in the starting XI.
Working in his favour, though, is that no one really sewed up that third spot in midfield. Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are certainties – but who fills that third slot?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain eventually made his case for it. Naby Keita is back from injury and will want it, too. It sets up a three-way fight for the role.
But out of all three, Fabinho has hit the highest heights. Even if Liverpool played better without him, he’s still the standout individual of the trio.
And for that reason, he’s the one most would hope takes that third spot. Even if it does mean Henderson moving forward a bit.
So Fabinho not exactly shining against Southampton isn’t a bad sign. It’s merely the next step of getting him back up to speed with the starting XI.
That will take time, especially as Liverpool changed the role somewhat. But if the Reds want their three most reliable midfielders in there, they need to take that time.
And Southampton was the game to start Fabinho. Liverpool can now look at his game over the two-week break and asses things. Hopefully, with good planning and coaching, he’ll be approaching his best by the time Liverpool face Atletico Madrid.