As the codeine poet himself once noted, real Gs move in silence like lasagna, and if tonight’s unveiling is anything to go by, Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards has more than a few Gs hidden in his name. Within the span of an hour, the Reds went from reportedly having made a bid for Monaco’s Fabinho to posting the official announcement — complete with leaning pictures and ice grill video — to every outlet available.
It’s a signing that has come completely out of the blue, but that doesn’t mean the player in question is unworthy of our attention. So, without further ado, we take a dive into all things Fabinho and his likely impact on this Liverpool squad.
DOB: 23/10/93 (24 years old) | Height: 6’2” (189cm)
2017/18 season: 45 appearances
8 goals | 5 assists
Strenghts: As Brazilian midfielders go, Fábio Henrique Tavares is somewhat atypical. Standing at a lean 6’2, the 24-year old offers a physical presence both in the air and on the ground that is rarely seen out of a nation that tends to prefer athletes with a lower centre of gravity. Possessing a long, rangy stride, Fabinho is capable of quickly covering tremendous amounts of ground — a massive benefit in his earlier days as a right fullback — and is adept at varying his defensive output between sitting back to protect his defense or pushing up to press, harry, tackle and generally make life miserable for opposing midfielders. His lengthy limbs also provide a significant obstacle and often find their way to the ball despite having no apparent right to do so.
Make no mistake, though, the Fluminense youth product is not some brute force merchant lacking in finesse, and when on the ball, he displays the sort of close control you expect of a star from the nation that’s won the World Cup five times. Paired with excellent bodywork, this allows him to shield and dribble the ball through tight areas and into open space, where his full stride makes him a genuine ball progression threat, able to burst through defensive lines all the way into the box.
While he may not rack up the assists — recording only eight in his five seasons in France — Fabinho is not a poor passer, and his average overall completion rate from midfield of 84% is similar to those of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can. The Monaco number two also possesses a delightful crossfield ball — boasting a career long pass completion rate of 60%, knocking it up to 70% this year — and while he increased both attempts and success rate somewhat this year, one would expect Jürgen Klopp to encourage the Brazilian to be even more adventurous in his transition play in the upcoming season.
While some reports will undoubtedly point out Fabinho’s prolific goalscoring for a DM — 22 league goals in the past three seasons — we here at TLO do not dabble in imprecision, and feel obliged to point out that 17 of those goals came from the penalty spot. Speaking of which, Liverpool have a new penalty taker! The one-time Real Madrid loanee is spectacular from the spot, converting at a 95% clip, having scored on 19 of his 20 career attempts.
Finally, and importantly for a Reds team that has been considerably hampered by injury troubles in the past three years, Fabinho is something of an iron man. In the past four seasons, he has featured in 201 games, playing 141 out of 152 possible league matches, and missing not a single fixture through injury. Quite handy when your midfield is falling to pieces around you. His experience in and ability to cover the right fullback position could also be of use should Nathaniel Clyne’s injury troubles not be past him, but hopefully, the Brazilian will be allowed to play as much as possible in his strongest position.
Weaknesses: I’m really racking my brain here, people, but...
Despite having never been sent off in his career, Fabinho’s penchant for sticking a leg in does lead to him committing a fair number of fouls for each successful tackle he makes, a tendency that has yet to come back and bite him thus far but that is nonetheless worth acknowledging.
A habit of taking more than one touch when winning or receiving the ball means that the 24-year old is slightly less accomplished in releasing fast breaks than similar targets Jorginho and Ruben Neves, but it is arguable that the defensive stability Fabinho offers more than makes up for this imperfection.
His impressive frame and decent aerial success rate — roughly 61% in his career — notwithstanding, the Brazilian does not posit much of a goal threat on offensive set pieces, failing to score a single header since 2013 and mustering only three headers on goal since moving to Monaco. It’s an odd peculiarity in this otherwise rangy athlete’s game, but beyond the penalties, Reds fans should not expect much in the way of direct goal threat from Fabinho.
Some will undoubtedly point to the Brazilian’s experience in the French league as inferior to many of those around the continent, but given the recent success rate of elite players making the transition from Ligue 1 to the PL and his Champions League experience, those misgivings are most likely to come from rival supporters clutching at straws.
Summary: This is, quite frankly, one hell of a deal. Liverpool have gone out and captured one of the world’s most promising defensive midfielders — a position of dire need — just as he is about to enter his prime, stealing a huge march on their competition ahead of the World Cup and next season. Fabinho is the player Chelsea thought they were getting when purchasing Tiémoué Bakayoko for a similar fee last summer, and it seems likely he will oust Jordan Henderson from the Reds’ starting XI immediately and claim the midfield anchor role for himself.
With the unique Naby Keïta already one the way in and Nabil Fekir’s arrival reportedly getting close, it is hard to argue that the Reds haven’t upgraded on their midfield from last season significantly while sending a significant statement of intent to their competitors, both in England and on the continent.