The Brazilian’s Liverpool career took a while to take off, but now he’s one of Klopp’s key figures. In Liverpool’s emphatic 3-1 win against Arsenal at Anfield, Mohamed Salah may have stolen the headlines with his dazzling second goal, but Fabinho’s “sensational” performance, as described by Jürgen Klopp, was a pivotal factor in the Reds’ relentless domination of the Gunners.
The Brazilian posted a passing accuracy of 93 percent, including four key passes and 27 successful passes from 32 attempts in the final third, as well as making six ball recoveries, and one outstanding marauding dribble in the first-half. While ostensibly the deepest midfielder, occasionally dropping between the two centre backs, Fabinho was able to proactively influence the game in advanced areas and help Liverpool maintain pressure high up the pitch and keep Arsenal pinned back in their own half.
In the second-half, Fabinho produced a moment of supreme quality and composure as he collected a pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold deep inside Liverpool’s own half. Without even looking, in one fell swoop, Fabinho instinctively stroked a terrific, crisp vertical pass into the path of Salah, and in doing so eliminated Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock and Nacho Monreal from the passage of play while leaving David Luiz one-on-one to be humiliated by Salah.
Salah still had a huge amount of work to do, of course, and deserves immense credit for scoring a sensational goal – but Fabinho’s assist warrants attention in its own right, and showcased how he is so much more than an orthodox, destroyer-type of defensive midfielder, whose footballing brain enables him to visualise a map of the pitch and therefore be one, or even two steps ahead of his opponents.
It was only last November that Fabinho looked ragged and overwhelmed by the intensity and pace of the contest against the same opponents at the Emirates, and prior to that he had even been omitted from the matchday squad by Klopp during the early stages of the season following his £39m ($48m) arrival from AS Monaco. By April, he was putting in one of the most imperious midfield performances Anfield has ever seen in the 4-0 win against FC Barcelona. Now that Fabinho has cemented his place as the anchor man in Klopp’s midfield and emerged as such a pivotal figure for Liverpool throughout 2019, it seems incredible to look back to this time last year when he was hardly even in the picture and struggling to make the bench.
But as Pepijn Lijnders explained to ESPN : “To adapt to the intensity of our play, that takes time. Not many can do it, and in certain positions it is easier than others.” Lijnders used the ‘lighthouse’ analogy to describe Fabinho’s calm and intelligent presence amid Liverpool’s organised chaos, and he has grown in stature this calendar year to turn what was previously a long-standing problem position for Liverpool into one of the team’s greatest strengths. He possesses a blend of qualities exhibited by the finest exponents of the deep-lying role for Liverpool in modern times; the tenacity and tackling prowess of Javier Mascherano, the languid, rangy frame and reading of the game of Dietmar Hamann, as well as displaying the kind of guile, vision and passing technique reminiscent of Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard at times.
Fabinho is capable of carving out opportunities for his teammates either by snapping into tackles and winning the ball in dangerous areas, or picking out a defence-splitting pass like he did when assisting Sadio Mané with a deft, chipped through ball in the 3-1 win against Manchester United at Anfield last season. So far in 2019/20, he has made more successful tackles (10) in the opening three games of the Premier League season than any other midfielder for a ‘top six’ side, which is particularly impressive given how Liverpool tend to dominate possession and control games high up the pitch against most opponents.
He’s also averaging 2.72 key passes per 90 minutes (KP90) – the third most of any Liverpool player behind Mané (4.45) and Alexander-Arnold (3.67) – which represents a significant increase from his average KP90 of 0.76 last season, albeit taken from only a relatively small sample size so far in 2019/20. Fabinho’s expected assists per 90 (xA90) of 0.18 this season is also triple his xA90 of 0.06 in 2018/19, and again, while it is only based off the first three league games, if he keeps producing similar numbers throughout the coming weeks and months then he could feasibly achieve an impressive tally of assists by the end of the season.
His xGChain90 of 0.57, which measures the involvement of players in passing sequences resulting in shots on goal, is also the highest of Liverpool’s central midfielders so far this season, indicating the progressive nature of his passing, despite ostensibly being the deepest-lying of them all. There is still the odd occasion where Fabinho gets overrun when left overly isolated in midfield with too much ground to cover, and his lack of natural recovery pace means if he does commit to a challenge and gets bypassed, he can struggle to catch up.
Those moments are becoming increasingly rare, however, and while he is already vastly experienced and closing in on 300 senior club appearances, at 25 years of age he is arguably still only just entering his prime and has scope for further improvement in years to come. Since being converted from a buccaneering right-back to a defensive midfielder by Leonardo Jardim in his formative days at Monaco, Fabinho has now established his place as a crucial cog in Klopp’s Liverpool machine, and is redefining what it means to be the deepest midfielder in an elite football team.
ByJoel Rabinowitz Staff.