Understated Fabinho Growing Into The Liverpool Shirt
Watching a game back is something I would urge any Liverpool supporter to do.
Once you take the in-the-moment emotion out of it, dissecting the match with a more measured mind, you see things you missed, appreciate individuals more and may even realise that you have overrated the performance of others.
On the first watch on Sunday, I didn’t believe Fabinho had enjoyed a particularly impressive afternoon in the 2-0 win over Fulham.
He had kept things neat and tidy and generally done a solid job, but his influence appeared lacking and I was left wanting more, given his reputation as a potentially world-class midfielder.
Plenty were praiseworthy of Liverpool’s latest Brazilian import, but at the time it felt like an over-the-top reaction, as all football fans often like to do with new signings.
It was only when watching the Reds’ victory back that Fabinho’s class truly stood out – once my eyes weren’t darting towards the marauding runs of Andy Robertson, the magic of Xherdan Shaqiri or the subdued Roberto Firmino.
Admittedly, Liverpool’s opponents were one of the weakest in the division, but Fabinho impressed in so many facets of his game.
His passing was crisp and precise, without ever necessarily being expansive, with 90 per cent of the 80 passes completed finding a teammate.
He also had the fourth-most touches, with the ball continually going to him rather than Gini Wijnaldum, who was largely anonymous.
Fabinho won 100 per cent of his tackles, made two interceptions and used his towering frame to win an aerial duel, bringing an authority to the No.6 role not always evident when Jordan Henderson and Wijnaldum take to the field.
Off the ball – the most understated aspect of any defensive midfielder – he really caught the eye, even though ironically my eyes missed it on first viewing.
AI’s ever-excellent Under Pressure podcast also went into depth on Fabinho, with his pressing statistics bordering on startling.
They discovered that of the 156 presses made by Liverpool he was responsible for 39 of them, and he made 13 possession wins, with Mo Salah and Sadio Mane next on the list with five.
“With the numbers, this boy is putting in off the ball, having him in midfield is vital. If you build a big pressing base around him, this team could be unreal in terms of a Gegenpress,” said Gags Tandon.
Essentially, Fabinho’s involvement was far greater than it appeared at the time, certainly to me, and it sums up the type of player he is.
He is a footballer that colleagues will adore playing alongside, nicking into tackles, making life awkward for the opposition and going about things in an unruffled manner.
Although not identical in style, Sergio Busquets is another perfect example of this, when you consider his presence at Barcelona during their period of unbridled success.
The headlines were always going to be made by Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and many others, but Busquets’ influence was also vast and continues to be nearly a decade later.
You don’t notice the Spaniard a lot of the time and won’t always fully appreciate a top-quality display from him, but he is integral to everything that goes on.
Gilberto Silva was similar for Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, Casemiro has been a huge part of Real Madrid’s recent Champions League dominance and Fernandinho is integral to Man City’s current dominance, to name a few other examples.
Once again, it is lazy to say that Fabinho is the same as all of these players, but there are similarities to be drawn in certain aspects of their play.
It would be wrong to go too overboard about the start the 25-year-old has made at Liverpool – it hasn’t all been perfect, as an up-and-down performance at Arsenal showed – but the current signs are increasingly positive.
Fabinho has spoken about the challenge of Jurgen Klopp’s tactical demands at Anfield and it is clear that he is still adjusting to a tweak in his role.
It is, therefore, wholly understandable why a settling-in period was to be expected, and why he is only coming to the fore in November.
As the season progresses and the matches become even more intense, the effect he has on the Reds is only going to grow.
There is a reason why Klopp, someone who doesn’t splash the cash recklessly, was so willing to spend £43.7million on Fabinho in the summer.