Fabinho has acclimatized to life as a centre half swimmingly.
Contending with a glut of injuries to their defenders, Liverpool turned to their Brazilian defensive midfield shield in their hour of need and the 27-year-old has excelled in the heart of defence.
Prior to Sunday’s laboured 1-1 draw at Fulham, Liverpool went 945 minutes in the Premier League and Champions League without conceding a goal from open play with their lanky Brazil international marshalling the backline.
One of the goals conceded in Fabinho’s time as a centre half was a ridiculously awarded penalty to Sheffield United, which adds further context to the former Monaco man’s transformation into a central defender of major repute.
While helping the Reds to second — only by goal difference — in the Premier League and playing a massive contribution to the English champions winning their Champions League group, Fabinho could have also done his international prospects no harm.
Although a regular in the Selecao squads, the 6’2″ defensive midfielder/defender is regularly found on the substitutes bench, with manager Tite — mystifyingly, despite the pairs divergent form over the past 18 months — preferring Real Madrid’s Casemiro in midfield.
But now, thanks to his sterling form with Liverpool in defence, Fabinho could find a niche for himself at centre half in his national team.
In Brazil’s latest squad, for a game against Uruguay last month, the central defensive component of their squad read as follows: Chelsea’s Thiago Silva, PSG’s Marquinhos, Atletico Madrid’s Felipe, and Sevilla’s Diego Carlos. With the exception of the excellent Marquinhos, Liverpool’s number 6 could make a legitimate case to say he is a superior centre half to any of his compatriots.
At 36, Silva is well past his physical best and his lack of mobility stifles any attempt to play a successful high line, as we have seen repeatedly when Chelsea have played team’s of any kind of top-line quality this season.
The same can be said of Felipe, the former Porto defender now at Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone likes his defences to be deep sitting and compact and his 31-year-old is well suited to those demands. Whether he can step up and play in a more ambitious defensive line remains to be seen, but Fabinho — evidently — can.
Diego Carlos is a visually impressive defender, but he would remind Liverpool fans of Dejan Lovren because of his last gasp challenges and bull in a China shop recklesness and feckless positional sense. In terms of game intelligence, the Reds’ £39 million summer 2018 signing is far superior.
From his time spent in midfield, Fabinho is also an adept passer and this ability means the 27-year-old can also step into the mould of an additional playmaker and accurately initiate attacks from the back, with his long clipped defences over the top of the oppositions defences a trademark of his.
To date, the Reds’ midfield general hasn’t been able to fully win the trust of his national team manager, but surely — given his ability to cover two roles with similar levels of accomplishment — he can’t be continued to be ignored. All Fabinho can do is to keep knocking at the door, and he’s making a great fist of it; wherever he plays.