Despite a slow start to his Liverpool career, Fabinho has been the go-to man for Liverpool this season having adjusted to the pace of life in the Premier League. With Liverpool’s injury crisis deepening since the start of the new year which robbed the back-line of Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, Trent Alexander Arnold and even Joel Matip at times, Fabinho was forced to play as a centre back on no less than three occasions.
He played extremely well in the unfamiliar role, even managing a clean sheet against a talented attacking outfit such as Bayern Munich. Having to deputize in positions other than his preferred central defensive midfield role is not something new to Fabinho, who has been plugged into various unfamiliar positions throughout his career.
Fabinho’s versatility is remarkable, and he is the epitome of the modern utility man. He has played as right back for both Brazil and Monaco, as a defensive midfielder for Monaco and Liverpool as well as covering as a centre back most recently this year with Liverpool’s injury crisis.
Perhaps unknown to less fervent followers of Fabinho, he started out as a right back in his native Brazil, graduating from the academy of Fluminense and eventually starring for Real Madrid Castilla. He continued to operate as a right back in AS Monaco following his transfer in July 2013. However, his career took an interesting turn under the guidance of Leonardo Jardim at AS Monaco. Jardim recognised the combative and physical abilities of Fabinho and experimented with deploying the Brazilian in a holding midfielder role in his second season.
It was no coincidence that Geoffrey Kondogbia, the preferred defensive midfielder from the 2013/2014 season, was allowed to leave for Inter Milan in the summer of 2015, around the time when Fabinho flourished in his new position. He became a key figure of AS Monaco’s title winning side in 2016/2017, holding the fort while attacking fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe bombed down the wings in Jardim’s system.
It was this breakthrough season that cemented his reputation as an elite holding midfielder, as he was often single handedly stopping dangerous counter attacks, filling in across the backline when the likes of Bakayoko, Mountinho, Sidibe and Mendy were all upfield.
At Liverpool, Fabinho has developed his passing game to add to his immense tackling, aerial prowess and defensive abilities. This has enabled him to function as a deep lying playmaker, while occasionally operating further upwards in the game as a centre midfielder, interchanging with the likes of Georgio Wjinaldum and Jordan Henderson in the duties of providing defensive cover for the backline.
Whilst Klopp still prefers to deploy Fabinho in a holding role, his composure on the ball and defensive attributes gives the manager the flexibility to field him as a centre back when the occasion necessitated, such was the case when Liverpool suffered a centre back shortage.
The national team however, has not been kind to Fabinho, as he has seen limited opportunities to represent his country, missing out on a place at the World Cup last year despite his impressive club performances. The likes of Casemiro and Fernandinho, established holding midfielders at European giants Real Madrid and Manchester City respectively, blocked his path of advancement.
With no lack of talent in the defensive midfield role, Fabinho has had to be content with representing Brazil as a right back. However, he could potentially make the position his own in the national setup for years to come, with the ageing Dani Alves meaning that Danilo is his only competitor in the position. With regular club appearances and versatility on his side, Fabinho could become a key member of Tite’s squad. Thus far, he has taken his chances, putting in solid performances in defense whilst offering the attacking threat going forward with his passing and vision, albeit from the right back position.
The utility player is an indispensable yet often underrated role within a squad. More often than not, their ability to play across multiple positions is often misinterpreted as a direct translation of their lack of particularly strong attributes which define their game. However, Fabinho’s excellent defensive capabilities are precisely what qualifies him to play in various defensive roles flawlessly. In fact, every title winning side had their own utility player – Leicester had Marc Albrighton in 2016, and Chelsea had Michael Essien in the 05/06 season. Other notable utility players in the Premier League include Eric Dier from Spurs, Liverpool’s James Milner, and West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic.
When we look back at the end of the season, Fabinho could just prove to be the utility man that Liverpool needed to win their first ever Premier League trophy in its current version.Leave a comment