How Liverpool can replace Fabinho: The natural heir, the bargain & the in-house fix

After spending nearly £100 million so far this summer, Liverpool are still very light in midfield.

A new No. 6 is needed to come straight into the first team, providing stability in an already overhauled department, whilst respecting the budget for the window and the wage structure in place.

Not only did the Reds not plan for this, but the market for No. 6 options has recently been inflated by nine-figure moves for Enzo Fernandez, Declan Rice and (soon) Moises Caicedo.

With such stringent criteria to meet, here are a few directions they could go in.


The natural heir

Florentino Luis of SL Benfica seen in action during the UEFA Champions League (Photo by Henrique Casinhas/SOPA Images/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

There’s neat symmetry to links with Florentino Luis.

The Portuguese will soon be the same age (24) as Fabinho was on his arrival, having played in a double pivot for a title-winning side in Europe.

But the most exciting parallels are on the field. Using Smarterscout, we can see that Luis profiles excellently next to Fabinho‘s peak season 2019/20:

Like Fabinho, Luis defends aggressively, stepping forwards to break up opposition attacks.

It’s the perfect style for a team like Liverpool that “want to be a possession team, a high-press team, specialists [in both].”

Benfica played a similar style last year, averaging 63 percent possession in the league, where Luis’ press resistance and safe passing proved useful.

To replace Fabinho‘s “impulse of defending forwards” and ball retention, Luis is a perfect fit.

Unfortunately, this is why he carries a €103 million release clause, and Benfica are under no pressure to sell.


The prospect

2KE2W44 RJ - Rio de Janeiro - 11/09/2022 - BRAZILIAN A 2022, FLUMINENSE X GOIAS - Fluminense player Andre celebrates victory at the end of the match against Goias at the Maracana stadium for the Brazilian championship A 2022. Photo: Thiago Ribeiro/AGIF/Sipa USA

Andre Trindade, known as Andre, is another potential successor to Fabinho.

The 22-year-old is also Brazilian and also plays in a pair as part of a 4-2-3-1. He even recently picked up his first Brazil cap at the same age as El Flaco.

Statistically he’s thrived at his level, as shown on FBRef, though crucially these metrics aren’t adjusted for Premier League standard.

Andre is a high-volume passer with an impressive range, similar to Thiago, and he’s an exceptional carrier of the ball.

More importantly, he’s a proactive defender, ranking highly for tackles and interceptions.

And his combative personality would be a welcome addition to the often fragile engine room of last season, although with 22 yellow cards since 2021, he could rein it in a touch.

At 5’9″, Andre would require support from defenders in contesting aerial duels. Usually Liverpool’s No. 6 is solely responsible for winning headers in their area – pulling in support from elsewhere creates a natural vulnerability if the duel is lost.

And despite being only a year younger than Florentino Luis, he’s a rougher diamond, having never left Fluminense in the Brazilian Serie A.

Linked with Fulham, he could quickly exceed Liverpool’s budget if he impresses there – similar to Cheick Doucoure at Crystal Palace.

But it’s still a risk to recruit Andre as a starter now.


The coaching project

2K9CR45 Eindhoven, Netherlands. 27th Oct, 2022. EINDHOVEN - Ibrahim Sangare of PSV Eindhoven during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between PSV Eindhoven and Arsenal FC at Phillips Stadium on October 27, 2022 in Eindhoven, Netherlands. ANP | Dutch Height | MAURICE VAN STONE Credit: ANP/Alamy Live News

PSV’s Ibrahim Sangare operated in a double pivot last season, and under both Ruud van Nistelrooy and Peter Bosz he was tasked with supporting a high defensive line and high press with his physical dominance.

His defensive metrics demonstrate just how effective he was.

His impressive press resistance and dribbling led us to profile him as a Wijnaldum replacement, but his superb reading of the game – always in the right place at the right time to break up opposition attacks – would make him highly effective as a No. 6 with coaching from Klopp.

Similar to the Fabinho that arrived rather than the one that emerged, Sangare could make a similar adaptation.

Pursued by Nottingham Forest after years of links to top clubs, Liverpool could allow the ongoing negotiations to establish PSV’s parameters before joining the race, similar to how they used Tottenham‘s pursuit of Luis Diaz.


The under-appreciated asset

Denis Zakaria (Image: Marius Becker/DPA/PA Images)

As recently as January 2022, Denis Zakaria was one of the most coveted defensive midfielders in the world.

After a disastrous move to Juventus and an underwhelming loan at Chelsea, he’s now been excluded from Juventus’ squad and made available for sale. But is he a potential bargain?

The now 26-year-old was outstanding in the Bundesliga, noted for his dynamism, stamina, tackling and ability to dribble past opponents.

His Smarterscout profile from his peak season is unusual, showing a defensive midfielder whose best attributes are his ball carrying and shot volume.

The eye test reveals why: Zakaria is a player who thrives in transitional games, able to win one-on-one duels and quickly turn defence into attack.

His long limbs and excellent control in tight spaces allows him to win the ball, shimmy out of pressure and carry it forwards into space.

At his best he resembles Naby Keita in the body of Fabinho.

The concern is his injury record – not that he is prone to further injuries, but that those he’s already suffered have stolen his physical gifts, the lynchpin of his game.

Once valued at €45 million, Zakaria’s current situation makes his parent club highly motivated sellers.

He could prove to be a steal at a reduced price – and Liverpool have already shown interest more than once in the past.


The in-house solution

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 20, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Curtis Jones has already impressed in an advanced role for Liverpool, with his passing, scoring and tackling numbers all outstanding during the run-in.

But he played as a double six for England in winning the U21 Euros, where his ability to move the ball – allied with his close control and intelligence – made him highly effective.

Jones also displayed an excellent sense of timing to make interceptions and launch attacks. Here, against Israel, he anticipated the loose clearance…

…seizing on it before immediately playing a gorgeous no-look through ball.

We’ve also seen his creativity from deep in the 5-1 win at Porto in 2021, particularly his assist for Roberto Firmino – one of four he facilitated on the night.

Jones is a poor fit for the role in a 4-3-3, given his lack of experience and unremarkable defensive metrics (though these are partly a symptom of him playing a different position).

But we’ve seen in pre-season that the inverted full-back system will persist. He’d have a partner, similar to the England setup, so he could be similarly effective.

Using Jones helps Liverpool with their homegrown quota, too.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 20, 2023: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Deploying him deeper this season could save on a non-homegrown recruit, and later allow Fabio Carvalho to inherit the more advanced 8/10 role if he returns from loan at Leipzig.

Smart, long-term squad management in this chaotic window would be a classic Liverpool move.

Whoever inherits the position, completing the overhaul of midfield should put the Reds on track for an exciting resurgence in the coming season.