Welcome to World Class: Fabinho

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
The Sopranos TV Still
The Sopranos TV Still / Getty Images/Getty Images

There was nothing inevitable about Fabinho's arrival at Anfield in May 2018.

After helping Monaco defy the odds in the Champions League and Ligue 1, interest in him was rife. Every major club in Europe wanted a piece of the Brazilian, with Manchester United emerging as early favourites for what many expected would be a summer long tussle for his signature.

Then, in keeping with Liverpool's recent no-nonsense recruitment, the Reds announced that Fabinho was coming to Merseyside - just 48 hours after they lost in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in May. It would prove to be a sliding doors moment for both clubs, much like when Manchester City missed out on signing Virgil van Dijk earlier that year.

For Liverpool, Fabinho represented the missing piece of their midfield puzzle. Since he arrived, the Reds have won English, European and even world titles. Their Manchester rivals, meanwhile, continue to struggle to find balance in the middle of the park.

However, the error of United's ways was not immediately apparent. Jurgen Klopp was slow to introduce his new signing to the mix with Fabinho not making his Premier League debut until matchday nine against Huddersfield - and even this was from the bench.

Throughout this period, Klopp kept a cool head, telling the press in August: "It is different football to what he is used to but he is improving already with big steps," as quoted by the Daily Mail.

"Everything will be fine with Fabinho."

Klopp did not immediately introduce his new signing to the team
Klopp did not immediately introduce his new signing to the team / Pool/Getty Images

This assessment would prove to be prophetic as when he finally did force his way into the team he soon established himself as undroppable - even convincing Klopp to change his system altogether. That's what world class players do you see.

Prior to his arrival, Liverpool's organised chaos occasionally reared into 'unorganised' territory. During the 2017/2018 season, there were countless examples of the Reds' heavy metal football not offering them significant control in games - particularly in midfield.

An opening day 3-3 draw with Watford set the tone for a frenetic season, which included high profile 4-1 and 5-0 defeats to Tottenham and Manchester City, as well as high scoring wins over Leicester and City in the return fixture. This lack of control meant Liverpool finished well short of Pep Guardiola's centurions.

Fabinho played in the 2019 Champions League final
Fabinho played in the 2019 Champions League final / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

For Klopp's high tempo football to function, while also maintaining some level of control, players of Fabinho's ilk are vital. As the relentless pressing, speed and verticality swirls around him, he is withdrawn from the action, using his devilish intelligence to position himself to prevent the opposition's counter attack.

His calmness on the ball is also important. While most of his teammates are risk takers, he always takes care of the ball when his side needs him to. The fact he has registered close to 90% pass completion in each of his two seasons in England speaks volumes.

Klopp's assistant, Pepijn Lijnders, summed it up perfectly when he was quizzed by ESPN about Fabinho's importance back in February 2019.

"Inside the ‘organised chaos’ that we want, that we like, he is like a lighthouse, he controls it and for me, you can still have the style of the gaffer and how we want to identify ourselves."

Pepijn Lijnders

Then there's his tackling. His spider like legs are capable of contorting at impossible angles to steal the ball away from the opposition. Combine this with his strength in the air and it is no surprise that he has made a tremendous stand-in for Van Dijk at centre-back this season.

However, solely characterising Fabinho as a water carrier does him a disservice - he offers so much more. As City found out six minutes into their meeting with the eventual champions last season.

With the ball rolling out to him on the edge of the box and Anfield willing him to shoot, he took one touch, set himself and unleashed an arrowing strike past Ederson to make it 1-0. It was one of the defining moments of Liverpool's glorious season.

After thumping his side ahead, Fabinho did a sterling job of nullifying the threat of the best midfielder in the Premier League, Kevin de Bruyne. Wherever De Bruyne scurried off to, his tormentor was there, clipping at his heels and preventing him for weaving his magic. The Reds would go on to secure a 3-1 victory which put them eight points clear at the top of the table.

His display against City was one the best of Fabinho's career and summed up what makes him world class perfectly.