It has mostly been a train wreck of a season for Liverpool.
Going into the season as defending champions, the Reds — crippled by a huge injury toll — relinquished their title without as much as a whimper and they gave a generally poor account of themselves in cup competitions, both domestically and in Europe.
As things stand, the Anfield club face a fight to even compete at Europe’s top table again next season, a prospect that would have seemed ridiculous this time last year.
But among the rubble of an unforgettable campaign, there are green shoots of positivity and they were shown clearly in Liverpool’s recent 4-2 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Ignoring the temptation to play Fabinho in defence — instead relying on the relatively inexperienced duo of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams — Jurgen Klopp selected the Brazilian alongside Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum in a midfield given the latitude to attack and create.
Wijnaldum will ply his trade elsewhere next season after his contract with the club expires in the season but his midfield partners last Thursday night showed the kind of understand that could provide the nucleus of an exciting engine room combination in the years and season’s to come.
Those questioning Thiago’s impact on Liverpool have tended to blow things out of proportion, with the narrative that he has been a flop signing totally out of sync with reality. But the win at the home of the Reds’ eternal rivals felt like a breakout moment for the Spaniard.
He was imperious throughout, both on and off the ball. The former FC Bayern playmaker successfully completed 84% of his passes, created one chance, had 66 touches, completed two from three dribble attempts(the best in the team) and three from four tackles(also the most in the side), and made two interceptions(also topping the individual stats in that metric).
Fabinho, meanwhile, was similarly impressive. The Brazil international made five recoveries, two interceptions, and won five aerial duels. On the ball, he was typically industrious and completed 83% of his passes, with exactly half coming in his own half and the other half in United’s half, which shows how advanced the number three played.
It wasn’t only at Old Trafford where Thiago and Fabinho shone in the same midfield unit, or as two-thirds as an engine room trio. In their six games together in midfield — a number which reflects the wide-ranging reach of the Reds’ injury issues this season — Liverpool are undefeated, winning five and drawing once.
The one game to fall into the draw column was the Goodison Merseyside derby, where the visitors were sublime and were only denied a richly deserved win by some of the shoddiest officiating — both in the VAR and on the pitch — you will ever see. Alongside Jordan Henderson — whose late goal was chalked off for a supposed offside — the visitors’ midfield was totally dominant, providing a glimpse of what might come in the future.
Whether Liverpool switch to a 4231 formation next season — an alignment they have regularly finished games in this season — or retain their 433 shape, in Thiago and Fabinho, and the returning Henderson, they have a strong basis to rebuild back from.