Jordan Henderson and Fabinho will form a defensive partnership against Manchester City, according to reports. They could struggle quite badly, however.
The Mirror believes that Jurgen Klopp wants to partner Jordan Henderson and Fabinho at the back against Manchester City. That’s simultaneously both surprising and not at all surprising.
Klopp tends not to rush new signings into the team, after all. So we’re not exactly shocked that Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak may have to wait.
He’s used Fabinho and Henderson at the back recently, too. So in that sense, perhaps we should have seen this coming.
But to do it against City feels like a massive risk to us. Those two really aren’t built for this kind of game.
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Playing midfielders as centre-backs can bring advantages. Pep Guardiola, in fact, has consistently done it over his managerial career.
When you’re pushing very high up the pitch and have a lot of possession, it makes sense. Your centre-backs will have a lot of space and a lot of the ball, frequently starting moves.
They’re the least-likely to have someone man-marking them, while they also typically face the least pressing. That’s just naturally the case when teams sit back against you.
Defensively, they mostly face counter-attacks. Defensive midfielders are naturally trying to stop those anyway and thus it’s not a major change for either player.
We saw this at home against Manchester United. Fabinho and Henderson formed a partnership and kept a clean-sheet, almost exclusively facing a counter-attack.
On the ball, too, they played like midfielders. Only Thiago completed more passes than either Henderson or Fabinho.
Per Whoscored, that duo had 15.7 per cent of the game’s possession. In contrast, United’s centre-backs combined for just 5.5 per cent. That latter combined total was lower than each of Fabinho and Henderson.
They dictated play, despite being centre-backs. That’s traditionally the midfield’s role, of course.
So it’s all well and good when they’re playing this way. But it only works in games where Liverpool consistently push their defence up so high that they’re playing in midfield.
Liverpool had 65.7 per cent of the total possession against United. That will not happen against City.
If we go back to the game at Anfield last year, where Liverpool could put out their best team, the Reds had just 45 per cent possession. City controlled the ball and pushed Liverpool back.
Suddenly, Liverpool’s defenders have to play like traditional defenders. They need to consider their positioning in the box, they have far less of the ball in space in the middle of the pitch, and their man-marking needs to be spot on.
Can Henderson and Fabinho play that way? We have no real reason to believe they can, given they’ve never had to do it before.
This will be a huge test and one that they may not pass. For us, throwing in a traditional defender like either Davies or Kabak makes far more sense.