Ruthless, aggressive and ambitious. They’re three adjectives to describe the way Liverpool have acted in the transfer market to secure the signing of Fabinho. The versatile Brazilian will join Liverpool officially at the start of July after the Reds struck a deal worth £39million with Monaco.
It came out of nowhere, too. Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United had all previously been named as favourites to land the 24-year-old and when Paris United, a reliable news outlet in France, revealed in early May that Monaco had struck an agreement to sell the former Rio Ave midfielder, many assumed it was to one of the trio.
But Liverpool, impressed by his showings in the Champions League for Monaco, did their business in the shadows and secured the deal without there being a mention of it in the media. It was reminiscent in many ways to the Roberto Firmino signing.
His versatility gives Jurgen Klopp a number of options next season. Our friends at Football Whispers have taken a detailed look at how he could be used in the system at Anfield.
Fabinho in right central midfield
For the most part, Liverpool have played a 4-3-3 under Klopp. However, at times last season it morphed into more of a 4-2-3-1 when in possession. It was a switch which shored things up defensively and added a balance to the midfield which had been lacking previously.
Jordan Henderson would push up from his deeper role to make a two along with one of Juventus transfer target Emre Can, assuming he doesn’t depart, Gini Wijnaldum or James Milner. The third midfielder would then join the attacking trio to make a quartet.
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Given he was a right-back in his earlier years, Fabinho knows which positions to pick up in order to cover for his full-backs. If used on the right side of the midfield three he could drop in alongside Henderson to cover that side of the pitch and this would allow Naby Keita to do Naby Keita things in the final third.
Fabinho in defensive midfield
Fabinho is being described as a replacement for the departing Can and a rival to Henderson for a starting role in the No.6 position at the base of Liverpool’s midfield. If that’s the case, he’s going to be used as the deepest midfielder.
He’s not too dissimilar to Henderson in terms of the numbers he posts. The Brazilian plays 0.97 open play key passes per 90 minute compared to the Liverpool captain’s 0.95. He also plays 3.3 per cent more of his passes forward and his expected goals assisted number is slightly higher.
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The ex-Monaco man completes 1.11 dribbles, a huge upgrade on the 0.33 Henderson manages, while coming out on top when comparing tackles and interceptions, too. Adapting to the rigours of the Premier League may impact his numbers but at first glance it seems anything Henderson can do, Fabinho can do better.
The midfield dynamic would be similar to that above, when looking at Fabinho as a right sided centre-midfielder, but it would be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing the free role meaning the Reds would have a midfield trio all capable of beating a man and opening up space.
Those parked buses might be blown away next season.
Fabinho in a two
There were signs throughout the 2017/18 season that Klopp wanted to return to a two-man midfield, something which served him so well while at Borussia Dortmund. It was difficult to really work out what the base formation was because it varied between 4-2-2-2 and 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1. But the one constant was a midfield two.
Keita has played a similar system at RB Leipzig meaning he and Fabinho, who also played as part of a midfield duo at Monaco, are using to covering a lot of ground and often being ‘outnumbered’.
Nabil Fekir, a Liverpool transfer target, played ahead of a two at Lyon and it’s a role he excelled in.
The 4-2-2-2 shape gives the Reds extra defensive layers and helps them cut off more passing lanes which, in turn, makes them more of a dangerous counter-attacking side.
With the pace in the starting XI, coupled with the abundance of players who thrive during transitions, it’s definitely a system and a style Klopp might look to use over sustained periods next season.
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by Tom Bodell