Liverpool midfielder Fabinho has revealed that he is ready to try and replace the injured Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the team’s defence and become a leader in the role to make up for the long-term loss of the influential Dutchman.
Van Dijk could miss the rest of the season as a result of an ACL injury suffered when he was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during last weekend’s Merseyside derby.
The blow to one of their talismanic players has left Liverpool with just two senior centre backs in their first-team squad. In addition, one of the remaining two, Joel Matip, has struggled with his own fitness issues, leaving Fabinho as the obvious solution to deputise at the back.
It is a role the Brazilian has been asked to fill already this season, playing alongside Van Dijk at the back in Joe Gomez’s absence in a 2-0 win over Chelsea last month. He also played 45 minutes as a centre-back against Lincoln in the Carabao Cup, but this week’s game against Ajax in the Champions League marked the first in what now stands to be a lengthy run there.
“The manager said to me I have to talk more to try and organise the team. Sometimes I have to get the second balls and be ready to press. In this role, I must try to do my best,” Fabinho is quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror, clearly relishing the challenge ahead of him.
“When I knew Virgil was out for a long time, I was shocked because first of all, he is the best defender in the world right now. But most of all, he is a leader in the team and in the dressing room.”
Part of Fabinho’s task now is to replicate what Van Dijk does for the team in terms of organisation and leadership, both on and off the pitch, and he knows it.
“He also makes sure the mood is good - a good atmosphere - and we will miss this,” the former Monaco star explained. “But I have got to do a little of what Virgil always does. I must try to organise the team. To talk to the team and try to be a leader.”
The Athletic has drawn the comparison, in Jurgen Klopp’s eyes, between Fabinho and former Borussia Dortmund defender Matthias Sammer. The 1996 Ballon d’Or winner also started his career in midfielder, but would eventually drop back and achieved international acclaim as a sweeper.
Fabinho appears to have the same characteristics as Sammer to make that switch, which could ultimately be more than emergency cover, with ‘strong shoulders, powerful long legs’ and the kind of football intelligence that promises to make the transition a smooth one.