It has been no secret over the last few years that Liverpool are an unbalanced team: their scintillating attack has often been undone by a calamitous defence and this season was no different.
No matter the competition, Liverpool stayed true to their habits. In October, a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham was followed by a simple 3-0 dismantling of Huddersfield. Similarly, the Reds advanced in their semi-final tie against Roma over two legs with an aggregate score of 7-6.
It was a slight surprise then that Liverpool were linked with one of Monaco’s offensive talents rather than a defensive one.
In the summer transfer window last year, Liverpool were favourites to sign Thomas Lemar, the French international, from the principality. When they failed to secure his signature, they reportedly pursued him again in January.
Lemar may yet join the ranks at Anfield, but for now, Jurgen Klopp has attempted to right the balance in Liverpool’s first team and signed defensive midfielder Fabinho.
With Naby Keita arriving over the summer, Liverpool’s midfield will look very different come August.
A club with Liverpool’s financial strength and historical stature has the pick of the bunch for attracting new talent, especially after a season where they reached the Champions League final. Why did Klopp opt for Fabinho over other defensive midfielders?
It should be noted that Paris Saint Germain have long been linked with the Brazilian, never mind the recent rumours of Manchester United interest.
PSG now need to be wary of Financial Fair Play and cannot gamble on further risking their place in Europe. Fabinho would have been a good match for the Parisians, but their hesitancy left the door open for Liverpool to swoop in.
Most importantly, the Brazilian is much more disciplined than others in his position. Far too often Emre Can can be seen bursting forwards, eager to join in on the attack, leaving his back four exposed. Liverpool have desperately needed a player who can resist the temptation of attacking for years.
Lucas Leiva was the man who offered this protection in years gone by, but as his time at Anfield ended, his time on the pitch was limited. Liverpool’s failure to upgrade and replace him is still being felt as their midfield three does not boast a dedicated defensive midfielder.
Fabinho ranked fifth out of all Ligue 1 players for tackles per game, averaging 3.4 and this number is far above current Liverpool players. Emre Can was closest to the Brazilian’s total with 2.6, while Henderson and Milner averaged 1.9 and 1.8 respectively.
He is impressive in the air, too, winning 2.9 aerial duels per game. Only centre halves Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk outrank Fabinho in that department among the current Liverpool squad.
Fabinho is a defensive midfielder who puts emphasis on the defence.
That is not to say that Fabinho is not without attacking abilities, too.
A penalty specialist, Fabinho has never missed a spot kick for Monaco in Ligue 1. While he does not score frequently away from the penalty spot, he is capable.
Against Marseille this season, he showed what he can do from open play. Picking up the ball just outside the penalty area, the Brazilian avoided a challenge from compatriot Luiz Gustavo before skipping through the defence and finishing into the bottom corner.
True to his defensive nature, Fabinho scored only four goals from open play this season.
Fabinho also laid on three goals for his teammates in Ligue 1 this season and boasts a pass accuracy of 86.3%. He will fit right in with Klopp’s ball retention philosophy.
Fabinho began his career as a right back, hence his number two jersey at Monaco.
Leonardo Jardim deployed him at fullback for the first part of his time at the principality, but when injuries and suspensions left a void in central midfield, the Brazilian got his chance there and never looked back.
For Liverpool’s sake, Klopp will hope that his versatility is not required. The Reds already have two promising youngsters who play at right back as well as Nathaniel Clyne.
Nevertheless, it is always good to have someone who is capable of switching positions when needed. Liverpool themselves found out the value of this two seasons ago when James Milner impressed at left back.
Fabinho’s transition to midfield was seamless. His defensive intuitions meant that he rarely strayed from the back and provided the much needed cover that his back line needed. As such, he has defined himself as a traditional defensive midfielder rather than a jack of all trades who tries to do it all.
How will the midfield line up?
Even before Emre Can was flirting with leaving Anfield, the Liverpool midfield needed bolstering.
Two world class players in Naby Keita and Fabinho will go a long way to fixing the lack of quality there. For all of Jordan Henderson’s passion and tenacity, he is not a standout player nor is he a committed defensive player.
Klopp is unlikely to stray from the 4-3-3 which has served him so well, which would leave little room for Liverpool’s current midfield. Fabinho would occupy the deep-lying position, leaving Keita free to roam forward.
The other midfield position is up for grabs, and with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain sidelined until November, the longer serving players have to seize their chance.
James Milner’s form is impossible to ignore, and with his high work rate could fit in well alongside the other two.
Henderson is the club captain and his leadership may be vital to provide mental direction to the squad, and Georginio Wijnaldum is a well-rounded player who can keep possession ticking over, but does not excel in one department.
Fabinho will not be playing in Russia, due to the overload of talent in Tite’s Brazil midfield, and most of his new teammates are missing out too.
Klopp will, therefore, have to observe the squad in pre-season and make the call as to who will play alongside his latest signing and Naby Keita.
Fabinho looks to be an excellent signing for Liverpool.
He fills the void in defensive midfield which has been vacant for years; he is only 24 years old and has plenty of time to grow and he suits Klopp’s style to a tee; for £40m Liverpool have done well in the current market.
Whisper it quietly, but Liverpool are shaping up to be a force for next year and could be serious title contenders with the addition of a goalkeeper and cover for the forwards.
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