Of the numerous impressive individual performers across this past season for Liverpool, Fabinho fell under the radar somewhat. The Brazilian earned credit but not to the extent some of his teammates received.
Yet, by the end of the campaign, Fabinho was as important a player as any in the starting line up. Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are the types of players that shone brightly. Fabinho was as important as them but did it in the quiet, efficient manner that separates the best defensive midfielders from the rest. And when Liverpool take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Final in Madrid on Sunday, it is Fabinho who will play a pivotal role.The midfielder is a key man in this Liverpool team and will be vital to ensuring the Reds return home with a sixth European crown.
Top of his list of priorities will be ensuring Liverpool keep a clean sheet, or, at least, limit Tottenham’s attacking power considerably. Fabinho is not only an excellent tackler, but his high levels of concentration ensure he is a defensive shield that very rarely relents. This concentration ensures opposition players rarely find their way beyond him, something Lionel Messi discovered in Barcelona’s 4-0 defeat at Anfield in the semi-final.
Fabinho was a menace that evening, ensuring Messi had little to no impact on the game as Liverpool pulled off a sensational comeback. He tracked the Argentine throughout, never giving him a moment’s peace or space to do what he does best. He was also the key to the rest of his team pressing Messi. When Fabinho pressed, he acted as the trigger for his teammates to join in and surround the Barca man. This left Messi blocked in, unable to do anything or affect the game with his magic as he so often does.
A repeat performance of that will be essential at the Wanda Metropolitano. Only this time, it will need to be Christian Eriksen he is targeting. Eriksen might not have the ability of Messi, but he is the creative hub of this Tottenham team. The majority of the good things they do, pass through the Danish midfielder. On his day he is a menace of a midfielder, capable of producing a defence-splitting pass as well as world-class goals on his own. If Tottenham are to succeed in this final, and their forward players to have good evenings, he will be crucial. Fabinho’s job will be to mark him out of the game. As he did with Messi, he will need to ensure Eriksen is never given the time or space to dictate the play, create chances or take shots at goal. If Fabinho can keep Eriksen as quiet as he kept Messi, it will limit Spurs.
His role cannot solely be a defensive one, though. While Fabinho has been a defensive shield this season, he has also played the role of a midfield general. He not only breaks up opposition attacks, but he is also crucial to Liverpool’s system as a whole. Sitting in front of the defence, he helps to dictate the tempo of the game in his side’s favour. Not only that, but he is also crucial to his side’s build-up play. Indeed, build up passing plays an essential role for Fabinho. It is a more significant part of his game than defending and aerial play, the two other areas he is particularly strong in.
Not only is the Brazilian a good passer of the ball, he finished this season with an 85% pass success per 90 minutes, but he is excellent at holding onto the ball. That is crucial in a game like this. These finals are grand, unpredictable affairs in which emotion often overrules sense. It leads to games becoming frantic, disorganised and wild. Players can lose their discipline and get caught up in the moment, often to the detriment of their team.
Fabinho is the man Liverpool need to ensure that doesn’t happen. They will need him to put his foot on the ball, control the tempo and help Liverpool keep things ticking over. It was the role that Luka Modric played for Real Madrid in last season’s final. The Croatian was a step above everyone else and dictated the game, thus ensuring Madrid dominated proceedings after a bright start from Liverpool. The Reds did not have a man to do that and lost any control in that final. Fabinho’s role this year is to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The Brazilian is one of the multiple star men in this Liverpool team these days. His career at Anfield started slowly but ended with him at full pace, strength and extremely important to how Jurgen Klopp’s side play. If they want to end Sunday night as Champions League winners, they will need him at his best to make it happen.
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