After taking a few months to settle into his new surroundings after his move from Monaco, Fabinho has consistently been brilliant for Liverpool since joining the club from Monaco in the summer of 2018.
As the teams defensive midfield general, the long-legged Brazilian played a prominent role in the Reds having the best Premier League defence in the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 seasons, campaigns where the club won the Champions League and Premier League respectively.
And now, thanks to an injury crisis that will see Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez — Jurgen Klopp’s prefered defensive pairing last season — miss most, if not all, of the season, Fabinho has proved himself as an excellent centre half.
After losing Van Dijk and Gomez, the obituary for the defending champions’ title challenge was written by many. Liverpool simply couldn’t, many said, win the league with two of their best defenders mussing the bulk of the season’s domestic action.
But they find themselves joint top of the Premier League table — only in second place because of the 7-2 drubbing inflicted away to Aston Villa, a game in which van Dijk and Gomez both started — and leading their Champions League group at the time of writing, with their number 3 proving to be the defensive linchpin.
In the eight games since the Merseyside derby, the Reds have kept four clean sheets and, despite the constant chopping changing of defensive partnerships because of injury, have looked solid in most games. In two of the games where Liverpool conceded, the opponents goals — Sheffield United at home and Brighton away — came from ridiculously awarded penalties against the Anfield team. West Ham managed a goal at Anfield, benefiting from no player in the defensive midfield slot winning the second ball, but it came from their only attack of note in the entire game.
The other games in which they conceded — Manchester City away and Atalanta at home — were against two of Europe’s best-attacking team’s last season, with the latter also not helped by the fact that Klopp, correctly concerned about player welfare in the midst of a crazily compacted run of runs, made several changes to his team.
Using all of his 6’2″ frame, Fabinho has proven useful in the air and has used his spatial awareness and intelligence — the kind which has seen him excel in his career as both a right-back and a midfielder — to seamlessly adapt to playing in Liverpool’s high lined defence. Additionally, the 27-year-old’s passing out from the back, a key requirement for a defender playing in a dominant team like Liverpool, has been an excellent source of initiating attacks.
For Mohamed Salah’s early opportunity as the Reds’ were held 1-1 away to Brighton last Saturday, Fabinho, from just outside his own box, deftly arrowed a raking long pass over the top of the host’s defence and into the path of the Egyptian. Salah, who opted to shoot straight away after controlling the pass, ought to have bided his time instead of pulling the trigger straight away, but the pass — equal parts vision and execution — from the Brazilian international was sublime.
With injuries to Trent Alexander Arnold and Thiago Alcantara, Liverpool are without two of their nominal attack starting playmakers, but Fabinho — along with Joel Matip, whose minutes are correctly being managed to stop any reoccurrence of past injuries — has stepped into that void with the minimal of fuss.
Liverpool took a gamble when not replacing Dejan Lovren last summer with another defender — instead, the club focused their efforts into signing Thiago from FC Bayern — but the form of their gangly Brazilian number 3 has shown why they rolled the dice.
If the Reds are to retain the title this season, or win their seventh European Cup, then Fabinho — wherever he plays — will be an even bigger part of those successes than he has been over the last two years.