Liverpool await their biggest match of the season on Wednesday evening as Atletico Madrid arrive at Anfield for the highly anticipated second-leg of their Champions League last-16 bout – and there are a number of crucial decisions Jurgen Klopp will have to get right.
One of them is Liverpool’s very-own midfield general Fabinho. The Brazilian midfielder has struggled immeasurably since returning from an ankle injury last month.
In all five of Liverpool’s fixtures since returning from the winter break, the former Monaco star has been miles off the pace. Perhaps it has been more noticeable for supporters when noticing Fabinho’s shortcomings in recent weeks due to how high he set the standard earlier on in the season.
Before his setback in November, Fabinho was unquestionably Liverpool’s standout midfield performer of the season and had established himself as one of the best players in the holding role in European football.
However, since his return, Fabinho has cut a completely mirror-opposite figure to the one that was so dominant and assuring for the league leaders only a few months ago.
His most recent audition against Bournemouth in Saturday’s 2-1 victory did the player no favours ahead of Liverpool’s do-or-die clash with Atletico under the Anfield lights tomorrow night.
Once again, Fabinho wasn’t commanding enough and struggled as the pressure seemed to be creeping up on the Brazil international’s shoulders.
Despite this, Klopp should start the player Pep Ljinders describes as the club’s very own ‘lighthouse’ against the Spanish giants. Fabinho has been paramount to Liverpool’s success in the competition over the previous 18 months and the former Real Madrid star is a risk that has to be taken on Wednesday night.
Against Barcelona, when Liverpool were similarly trailing to Spanish opposition, Fabinho was utterly outstanding in the holding role and contained the threat of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with ease as the Reds produced one of the competitions’ greatest ever comebacks.
Fabinho is the anchor that sets the tone for the team and Liverpool will need him if they are to bypass Simeone’s resilient La Liga outfit. Also, the only natural successor to Fabinho in the holding role is Jordan Henderson and Liverpool cannot afford to utilise the club-captain defensively with the Reds chasing a one-goal deficit.
At his best, Fabinho – who joined from Monaco for a £39m [BBC Sport] fee in June 2018 – is fundamental to Liverpool and has become so adept at shutting down space and retrieving possession for his team that he has become the building block to starting counter-attacks and punishing teams on the break.
Liverpool will need Fabinho if they are to pull-off another special Anfield European comeback.
It is certainly a risk, but in the grand scheme, it is certainly a gamble worth taking.