Virgil van Dijk’s recent ACL injury has robbed Liverpool of much more than his defensive prowess and penchant for towering headers. His absence also deprives LFC of their leader at the back, and that’s not an easy trait to replace. It takes a very perceptive player to be able to read the game and take responsibility for not only his own positioning, but also the positioning of the entire defensive unit.
In a post-match interview with Viaplay Fotball, Fabinho, who filled in for van Dijk at center back against Ajax this evening, revealed that he (with some urging from Jürgen Klopp) took on this responsibility in Amsterdam.
“Tactically I have to always be ready for the long balls and try and organize the team,” said Fabinho. “It’s not easy as I have to do a little bit of what Virgil always does and talk to the team and try and be a leader. Of course I’m not Virgil but I’ll do my best.”
Though he makes his living as a holding midfielder, Fabinho’s best earned him universal praise for an outstanding performance that included an acrobatic goal line clearance to preserve Liverpool’s 1-0 lead. Despite the individual accolades, the Reds keeping Ajax off the board is what mattered most to the makeshift defender.
“It’s very important for me for the team to keep a clean sheet for the confidence of the team.”
The Brazilian then revealed that it was Klopp who encouraged him to be the vocal leader of the defense in van Dijk’s absence.
“I try to do my best, of course the manager says I have to talk more to the team and organize them. Sometimes I use phrases like second ball or be ready, or tell the team to press well. I try to do this role as well and do my best.”
Fabinho also heaped praise on Van Dijk, specifically pointing out all of the important things his Dutch teammate does, both on and off the field.
“Personally, when I knew Virgil was out for a long time, it was a little bit like a shock,” Fabinho said. “I think he’s the best defender in the world right now and most of all he’s a leader in the team and the dressing room. He always keeps a good mood and a good atmosphere and of course we’ll miss this.”
Virgil van Dijk is not a player whose physical or leadership abilities can ever truly be replaced. However, Fabinho’s performance tonight showed that much of the panic about who could possibly fill his very large shoes may have been premature. If Fabinho can build on this performance, it will make coping with van Dijk’s injury absence a much easier task.