After a debut season with Liverpool that saw about everything go wrong that possibly could short of a close-up encounter with a meteor, Fabio Borini has bounced back in a big way while away on loan with Sunderland this season. After a slow start, Borini has become a central figure in Sunderland's tactical structure under Gus Poyet, almost completely supplanting the far more positively lauded Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher for the Wearside club.
We're finally getting a glimpse of not just the energy that attracted Liverpool to him, but the quality movement and finishing as well. While his six goals and three assists so far this season aren't exactly eye-popping numbers, they're solid ones that serve as a good reward for the fantastic play he's given Sunderland the last five months or so.
One thing that's been particularly interesting has been his improvement in linking passes and holdup play, something that's been a huge benefit for Poyet and has a lot of utility for his potential Liverpool future as well. With Liverpool staring down a Champions League campaign, improved depth is of vital import, especially with Iago Aspas failing to impress this season. That makes Borini's vastly improved performances all the more important.
How would he fit in to Liverpool's schemes and plans for next year, though? With Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Raheem Sterling healthy and in form, he wouldn't be getting regular starts most of the time, especially not central, where he's been at his most effective this season. What he can give them, though, is a damn fine rotational option who won't break Brendan Rodgers' tactical ideals, something important with the extra influx of high level, non-league matches the Champions League will bring. A forward who can play on the wings, particularly well from the left, is a great thing to have during those runs, and when he's not filling in in the starting XI, he can be a great asset off the bench, something that Liverpool have lacked too often this season.
What Borini lacks in pace, he more than makes up for in tactical acumen and work rate. He doesn't just run his ass off, he runs his ass off to get in to the most advantageous position he can, whether his side is with or without possession. He presses well, positions himself in defense well, and finds holes in defenses to run in to like he has a heads-up display with them mapped out. Now that his confidence and finishing touch are back, it's easy to see how well he fits in the "Rodgers Method" of tactical thinking.
Perhaps one of the better things to see about his performances this year isn't just that he's been playing great, it's when he's been playing great. Some of his best performances this season have been in Sunderland's biggest matches: he scored in both Tyne-Wear derby matches this season, as well as against Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City in the League Cup. Even without the goals, he was tremendous in all of those games, and having another big-game performer is always a good thing when making a run in Europe's top cup competition. Getting him added in to the lineup for "free" helps too.
This time with Sunderland and Gus Poyet has turned out to be exactly what Fabio Borini needed to find himself again. Now he has, and that could give Liverpool a hugely valuable asset in the years to come. It'll be fun to watch him reintegrate back in to the side in the fall.