Fabinho: The All-Action Midfielder Behind the Reds’ Title-Winning Campaign
On May 28th, 2018, Liverpool agreed on a deal with Monaco for Fabinho. The transfer saw the highly-rated Brazilian swap the Stade Louis 11 for Anfield, one of the world’s most famous stadiums. For around £40 million, Fabinho parted ways with the French side as the core of their 2016-17 title-winning squad continued to be dismantled. From a Liverpool perspective, they were acquiring a versatile, all-purpose midfielder who had been compared to Premier League legends like Patrick Vieira.
Over two years on from his move to the top flight of English football, few can argue that Fabinho hasn’t been central to Liverpool’s recent successes. While Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk will both rightfully get the plaudits for their roles in solidifying the Reds’ defence, the Brazilian is central to Jurgen Klopp’s fast-paced, transition-based play. So, let’s take a look at Fabinho’s impact on the six-time Champions of Europe.
A World-Class Replacement for Players of Old
Prior to the arrival of Klopp, Liverpool had long sought to stabilise their midfield under numerous managers. While Brendan Rodgers turned to Joe Allen to provide balance to his midfield, Roy Hodgson opted for Christian Poulsen following the Danish international’s £4.5 million transfer to Merseyside in 2010. Despite their intentions, neither were capable of replacing Anfield favourites, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso.
While Lucas Leiva anchored the Reds’ midfield to a high standard throughout the latter years of his Liverpool career, the midfielder lacked the dynamism needed to make Klopp’s system flourish. The same, however, can’t be said of Fabinho. Having lost Emre Can on a free transfer, the Brazilian soon made the Anfield faithful forget about the outgoing German international.
Eight years after Mascherano left for Barcelona, the Reds finally had a suitable replacement in their ranks. Throughout the 2019-20 season, Fabinho boasted a tackle success rate of 56 per cent. Moreover, he also made 157 recoveries and 34 interceptions. By comparison, although he played eight games more than N’Golo Kante, Fabinho enjoyed more success in the challenge than the Frenchman.
Although untested, Fabinho’s work rate provides Liverpool’s German manager with systematic options. At Borussia Dortmund, Klopp typically opted for a double pivot in front of his defensive line. On Merseyside, however, the 53-year-old utilises a midfielder three. That said, with Naby Keita also available for selection, Klopp may experiment in the coming years by deploying his 2018 midfield acquisitions alongside each other in a two-man central unit.
The Brazilian Is More Than a Ball-Winning Midfielder
Depending on who you ask, Fabinho is not only the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League, but also in world football. While, of course, this is subjective, the deep-lying anchor has undoubtedly changed perceptions of his role. After an impressive start to life on Merseyside, Gary Neville declared that Fabinho is football’s top defensive midfielder, praising the Brazilian’s vertical play. This is evident from his statistics, as he recorded two goals and three assists in 28 top-flight appearances during the last campaign, as per Transfermarkt.
As touched on above, as well as replacing Mascherano’s grit, Fabinho has also somewhat offered the same deep-lying creativity as Alonso did under Rafa Benitez. As per his 2019-20 statistics at Understat, Liverpool’s £40 million midfielder boasts impressive numbers during the Reds’ build-up play. Regarding his on-the-ball contributions, Fabinho played 0.83 key passes per game throughout Liverpool’s title-winning campaign, which is more than his teammate, Georginio Wijnaldum.
Impressively, the six-foot-two Brazilian also recorded similar levels to Chelsea’s Mason Mount concerning xGChain90, which relates to expected goals of every possession the player is involved in per 90 minutes. Despite the perception that he’s a ball-winning midfielder, Fabinho is exceeding expectations from an offensive standpoint, equalling some areas of Mount’s game, who’s excelling in his first season top-flight campaign with Chelsea.
Due to Fabinho’s impact on Merseyside, Liverpool have become consistent challengers for the Premier League title. Heading into next season when the Reds will look to defend their crown, Klopp’s side are priced at 15/8 to recapture the trophy with Betway, as of August 3rd. Although securing back-to-back titles won’t be without its challenges, the task will be made easier with Fabinho anchoring the midfield.
Emerging as an Anfield Cult Hero
Although £40 million doesn’t guarantee success, the investment on Fabinho has yielded fruitful results. In his short spell on Merseyside, the Brazilian has won four trophies, including the Champions League and Premier League. In playing his role in ending the Reds’ 30-year drought for the English title, Fabinho has established himself as one of the world’s best-rounded midfield players.