“GOOD things come to those who wait.”
Patience is a concept easily forgotten within football, such is its frantic, all-consuming nature. Within the modern game where expectations continue to grow tenfold and pressure to yield results never ceases, being given time to adapt remains rare.
In the two months it took Fabinho to make his first start in the Premier League, the narrative was very much one of a Brazilian struggling to adapt to the pace and rigour of England’s top division.
Just 10 months ago, in the wake of a 1-1 draw at The Emirates, only his second league start, he himself admitted he was still coming to terms with the intense demands of Klopp’s system.
“That was the night when I really understood the speed of the Premier League and the attention to detail that is required.”
That night has served as a reference point; a catalyst for a steep learning curve on his path of development.
Where once he struggled, he’s now among the best defensive midfielders in Europe, emerging from a £40m signing who seldom played to a starter in 28 of the 33 games Liverpool have played since their last league defeat.
As one of the first names on the team sheet, his presence at the base of the midfield has been pivotal to the incredible run of results the club have boasted in that timeframe.
Taking time to adapt to Klopp’s blueprint, his transformation has been one of patience and methodology, meticulously assimilating the German’s patterns of play and ingraining them within his DNA.
Labelled the “lighthouse within the organised chaos” by Pep Ljinders last season, the club’s offensively fluid, exuberant system bears fruit due to the Brazilian’s combination of defensive combativeness and Klopp’s proactive passing and pressing mantle.
There is, as they say, method in the madness.
Forever scanning his surroundings, Fabinho’s tactical intelligence is second to none, allowing him to quickly read the pattern of the game. In doing so, he is primed to block passing lanes, alive to impending threats and able to rapidly respond as the enforcer of Klopp’s system.
Last season, Fabinho recorded an average of 2.6 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per 90 minutes – better than Wijnaldum’s 1.3 tackles and 0.7 interceptions and Henderson’s 2.1 tackles and 1.4 interceptions.
Indeed, since his arrival in May 2018, no Liverpool midfielder has made more tackles (72) than him – a stat made all the more impressive by his relatively slow start at Anfield.
Likewise, the 25-year-old’s open body posture and sideways stance lends itself to quick transitional play, ensuring he is able to make the most from situations where he pounces to regain possession.
Where a standard stance would see him take several touches to turn and get the ball out of his feet, Fabinho is already on the front foot, setting his teammates up immediately rather than reassessing the pathways ahead of him.
What makes Fabinho stand out from the plethora of defensive midfielders is his inclination for progressive passing, he’s not only a dogged defensive force but a tempo setter.
Where most holding midfield players are guilty of playing horizontal, sideways passes that do little other than keep the side ticking over, Fabinho acts as an enabler, offering swathes of attacking creativity via the positions he takes up.
His in-game intelligence allows Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to maraud forward at will – a crucial component of the way the team operates – while a previous stint at right back at Monaco sees him instinctively support the wide players.
In midfield, blanket security within an anchor role that sees him act as the free man helps to form a midfield overload, subsequently feeding the ball into the creative channels.
According to Squawka, since the start of last season, Fabinho has played 451 passes ending in the final third and won possession in the opposition’s final third eight times in the Premier League.
Exuding authority and conviction, the Brazilian does exactly what any good midfielder should do; readily available and always moving off the ball to create space for others effectively, the dynamic nature of his game places him as the conductor of Klopp’s side.
Where Fabinho’s commanding performance against Newcastle showcased his worth against the so-called “weaker” sides, acting as the quiet orchestrator to ensure Liverpool’s dominance, Napoli was about emphasising his importance on the big stage.
The Italians will be one of the toughest opponents Klopp’s men face all season, and yet in the sea of attacking talents, Fabinho reaffirmed his status, delivering a performance deserving of widespread admiration.
His six tackles, 62 passes and one interception across 90 minutes were testament to the aura he now carries within the team.
Reading the game perfectly while displaying positional intelligence to stifle the danger and simultaneously lay the foundation for forward moves through proactive, progressive passing, it’s easy to forget that Fabinho is still just 25 with his peak years very much ahead of him.
A master puppeteer and persistent presser with the ability to thread an eye-of-the-needle pass in between the lines, Fabinho’s comprehensive and expansive skillset extends far wider than an orthodox defensive midfielder.
He is the perfect man for the ultimate job in Klopp’s system.
The lighthouse to the unwavering madness.
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"To beat Liverpool you either have to be brilliant, or have a moment of good fortune, and that's what Napoli got."
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— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) September 18, 2019