Fabinho has been at the centre of just about everything that’s gone right and wrong at Liverpool this season.
Our world class defensive midfielder was forced to play centre back after Virgil van Dijk’s injury and did a very classy job, up to a point. The knock on effect, though, denied midfield control and made just about the entire spine of the team worse. Something had to change, and so more recently, we’ve seen him back in midfield. The team looks much better for it.
Liverpool assistant Pepijn Lijnders has been honest about the evolution.
“We didn’t lose only our last line [due to injuries], by losing our last line we lost our midfield as well”, he told the official Liverpool site.
“And that’s where we lost our engine, and that’s a big problem. It’s something that created doubt in many different tactical aspects.
“Many times small problems come from one big issue. If you try to solve the small problems you get nowhere, you have to solve the big issue. We always tried to find the solution, but the solution needs consistency, and that was the problem because there were always different and new problems coming and took the consistency away.
“We don’t measure ourselves with the past, but we have to understand what made us the team who nobody wants to play against. This is the main reason why we won.
“Coming back to Fabinho as the lighthouse, a proper ‘six’ just sees more, top teams and top players like Fabinho have in common that they have a huge spirit of initiative. That’s why when we speak about team development we are speaking indirectly about individual development – our idea forces this individual development.”
“He has the capacity to make the players around him better. It’s really difficult to find players who have the talent to make the other ones flourish.
“There are just a few players in world football who have this natural capacity to stop counters, for example; most of them just tactically foul.
“He just always puts the team above himself. By the way, all our Brazilians have this characteristic. Nobody likes them, everybody loves them.
“In the same package you get someone who is only concerned about making the team better, there is no space for ego. He is a real team player. Luckily we have three of them, Gini and Hendo have this characteristic as well.
“Having two midfielders like that is like the queen in the chess game. You lose the queen, who defends in offense. There is a reason why the better chess players just give up when they lose the queen.
“You need two who can control a game by being dominant without the ball. That’s what we are searching for.”
He’s absolutely right: Liverpool’s good football has come from midfielders who can control situations not through being in possession but a good shape and intelligence without the ball. It’s a balance that has to be found again if the Reds are to thrive.