How a season in three parts showed Fabinho has the resilience needed at Liverpool

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Fabinho earned the second title of his career in 2019/20, and in overcoming a brutal blow mid-season, the Brazilian showed he has the resilience needed at Liverpool.

Prior to lifting the Premier League at Anfield, Fabinho was one of few players in Jurgen Klopp‘s squad with experience of winning a top-flight title.

His success at Monaco earned him a switch to Merseyside, and after battling his way into the side in his first season with the Reds, the 26-year-old maintained his strong form this time around.

It wasn’t a campaign without its setbacks, though, and it can be described as a season in three parts for Fabinho, with the end result suggesting he can take another big step in his third year with Liverpool.

Turning 27 in October, that he is unlikely to have even reached his prime years as a deep-lying midfielder will be music to Klopp’s ears.

Fabinho, 2019/20

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' lifts the Premier League trophy during the presentation as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 32 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 7
Unused sub: 2
Goals: 2
Assists: 4

Overall Season Rating: 9

 

The dominant start

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, March 3, 2020: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the FA Cup 5th Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having overcome the challenges of his move to Anfield, acclimatising to the demands of Klopp’s system and settling into an undisputed role in the first-choice XI, there were big expectations on Fabinho for 2019/20.

He was one of eight ever-presents in pre-season, owing to his strange omission from the Brazil squad for Copa America, and this allowed him time to get back up to speed.

A suffocating display on the opening day of the Premier League campaign—the 4-1 thrashing of Norwich—served as a statement, and Fabinho largely kept this form up for four months.

The No. 3 was similarly influential against Arsenal, Burnley, Newcastle and Chelsea in the league, along with an impressive showing despite defeat to Napoli in the Champions League in September.

A dip into the solid, rather than spectacular, following the 2-1 win at Chelsea five days later saw him hold his own against Sheffield United, Salzburg and Leicester, before a frustrating display at Man United.

The sight of Klopp on the Old Trafford touchline, fuming at his midfield anchor as he underhit passes and chased shadows in front of the defence was a concern.

But the following league game saw him turn in one of his finest displays in a Liverpool shirt, the metronomic base as the Reds pinned Tottenham back on the way to a 2-1 win at Anfield.

Fabinho of Liverpool (Image: Darren Staples/Sportimage via PA Images)

Such was Fabinho‘s standing at that point that it was seen as a disappointment that he didn’t pick up his fifth booking of the league season that day, with a crucial clash with Man City on the horizon.

Klopp navigated that by resting the Brazilian for the 2-1 comeback win at Aston Villa, and was rewarded with another world-class showing against City.

This time, it was marked by a stunning goal from 30 yards out, putting Liverpool one up on their way to a 3-1 victory that would have great bearing on the title race.

Fabinho wheeled away pointing to an imaginary watch on his wrist; the message was that it was time he got on the scoresheet again, but just over two weeks later, the euphoria was reduced to pain.

 

The injury

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, November 27, 2019: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' goes down with an injury to his left ankle during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Liverpool FC and SSC Napoli at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Just 19 minutes into the penultimate group game of the Champions League in November, Fabinho collided with Napoli’s Hirving Lozano and was forced off the pitch at Anfield.

After the game, Klopp described the impact as “massive,” and the club eventually confirmed that he had suffered ankle ligament damage, ruling him out for the rest of the year.

Fabinho ultimately missed two months of action, with the Reds’ medical staff not willing to risk any setbacks by rushing him back, aiding by the imperious form of Jordan Henderson in his absence.

When he did return, starting as part of a heavily rotated side in the FA Cup at Shrewsbury, it was clear it would take time for Fabinho to get back up to speed.

It was a strange game against League One opposition, in which the youngsters who came in shone and the senior players struggled.

SHREWSBURY, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 26, 2020: Liverpool players before the FA Cup 4th Round match between Shrewsbury Town FC and Liverpool FC at the New Meadow. Dejan Lovren, goalkeeper Adrián San Miguel del Castillo, Joel Matip, Neco Williams, Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho', Pedro Chirivella, Yasser Larouci, Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones, Divock Origi, Harvey Elliott. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Neco Williams and Curtis Jones were the stars, but Fabinho was one of those to particularly disappoint, with his lack of sharpness manifesting itself in a series of sloppy passes.

A hit-and-miss run followed, with poor displays against Watford, Chelsea and Bournemouth, and left out of the starting lineup for the Champions League second-leg loss to Atletico Madrid, he was one of those whom benefited from football’s three-month pause.

His wide, enhanced smile was a prominent feature of Liverpool’s Zoom calls during lockdown, and the time at home seemingly steeled the midfielder for a revival.

 

The comeback and beyond

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, June 24, 2020: Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (L) celebrates scoring the third goal with team-mate Mohamed Salah (R) during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The way he ended the campaign, as a standout against Palace and Burnley and a strong presence against the likes of Everton, Man City and Aston Villa, was a statement from Fabinho.

His importance to side was never in question, when fully fit and firing, but the performances Henderson was able to produce in his absence led some to believe he was not indispensable.

But punctuating the champions season with another long-range stunner on the way to a 4-0 win over Palace, Fabinho reinforced that he is arguably Liverpool’s best midfielder.

Whether or not Klopp adds to his midfield ranks in the transfer window, his No. 3 is the one player whose place should not be under threat; he is unique in his ability, and offers something the Reds had been missing for almost a decade.

It could even be that Fabinho is among the next group of players to be approached for talks over a new contract, as the club aim to reward their key figures.

Fabinho may even become more vital to Liverpool’s approach moving forward, with Pepijn Lijnders explaining how Klopp’s staff are working on ways to “remain unpredictable.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 11, 2020: Liverpool’s Andy Robertson (C) celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mates Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' (L) and Mohamed Salah (R) during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

“We have used the corona time to good effect,” the assistant manager said.

“There was time to work on new variants, bringing boys in a different role and in different spaces in training and seeing what the effect is.”

One of those “new variants” could be an added emphasis on those clipped balls from Fabinho over the opponent’s defence, as seen with his brilliant assist for Andy Robertson in the 1-1 draw with Burnley in July.

With his 27th birthday coming up, there is still plenty of time for Fabinho to adapt his game further, and the way he was able to respond to the setback of his ankle injury shows he is up for the challenge.

Dejan Lovren‘s departure could see the Brazilian deputise more often at centre-back, but that should only be a last resort—as Fabinho is just too good in his natural role.


Best moment: That rocket against Man City.

Worst moment: The ankle injury against Napoli, and his subsequent drop in form.

Role next season: Starting almost every game as No. 6.

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