Colossal Fabinho standing tall while other Liverpool stars fade
When Marcus Rashford burst clear in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Man United, every Liverpool supporter on the planet must have feared the worst.
The England striker is renowned for his blistering pace, and as he sprinted through on goal, the Reds’ long unbeaten home run felt like it could go up in smoke, against the worst possible opponents.
From nowhere, though, the marauding Fabinho appeared to save the day, racing back to thwart Rashford, muscling him off the ball and extinguishing the flames.
It was the best moment from another all-conquering defensive performance from the Brazilian, who stood out as the Reds’ star man.
Alisson made a number of vital saves, Jordan Henderson performed admirably at centre-back and Thiago looked slick in midfield, but Fabinho was colossal.
It was the latest display of brilliance from the Brazil international, who is now head and shoulders above anyone in Liverpool’s current Player of the Year stakes.
Few envisaged how this season would pan out back in the summer, at a point when we assumed Fabinho would again be taking up the No.6 role he has been so influential in.
The arrival of Thiago was set to complement the 27-year-old beautifully, and with Alisson, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez behind them, not to mention the best attacking unit in the world, there seemed to be no stopping Jurgen Klopp’s champions.
Then Van Dijk and Gomez were taken out for the entire season, Thiago found himself out for months and Joel Matip continued to be injury-plagued, as Liverpool’s side became depleted in no time.
With the summer transfer window shut, the only solution was to throw Fabinho into an unfamiliar centre-back role that he has barely played in before, and hope for the best.
What has occurred in the three months since has been admirable, with the former Monaco man showing why he isn’t just a special footballer, but one of the best signings of Klopp’s reign at Anfield.
From minute one in defence, he looked like a seasoned veteran in the role, marshalling the troops and cutting a dominant, cool figure. His first match in that position was a 1-0 win away to Ajax, in which he was impeccable and made a stunning goal-line clearance for good measure.
In Fabinho’s 14 starts at centre-back, Liverpool have only conceded eight goals, one of which came away to Midtjylland when he had already been replaced at half-time.
He has helped youngsters Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams through some tough occasions, as well as Henderson on Sunday, and produced a string of almost faultless performances that even Van Dijk would be proud of.
It is easy to forget that Fabinho was also used at centre-back in Liverpool’s second game of the campaign away to Chelsea, too, when he continually thwarted Timo Werner and cruised through proceedings.
Perhaps Klopp knew he could excel there and his plan was to always have him as fourth-choice, or maybe he just got lucky – whatever it is, the Reds manager owes a huge amount to him.
Without Fabinho’s world-class displays at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, their season really could have caved in, but he has been a true leader at difficult times.
To sum up how good he has been, no other fit Premier League centre-back looks superior to him on current form, perhaps barring Man City’s Ruben Dias. That is testament to the level he has reached.
The only negative has been losing the midfield version of Fabinho.
His ability to break up opposition attacks, use the ball crisply and read the game to perfection has hit Liverpool hard in that area, impacting on Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in the process.
We may as well write off this season in terms of seeing Fabinho in the middle of the park again – don’t go expecting a January centre-back signing – but when Van Dijk and Gomez return, seeing him back where he belongs will make such a difference.
Whatever happens between now and the end of Fabinho’s career, this stint at centre-back will always be appreciated and lauded by Liverpool fans, at a time when a freak situation saw him drafted in.
He has never complained about Klopp’s use of him, instead simply getting on with his job and making a desperately unlucky situation a more bearable one.
While a number of players have struggled at different times this season, from Trent Alexander-Arnold to Firmino, he has been a rock, standing tall as one of the most intelligent and selfless individuals at the club.
Headlines are often saved for many of his teammates, but with Liverpool in the trenches at times this season and most in need of a hero, Fabinho is the individual who has stood tallest.