LIVERPOOL: Fabinho’s impressive display in Liverpool’s midweek Champions League success has left his coach Jürgen Klopp with a difficult decision to make ahead of the team’s return to domestic action at home to Cardiff on Saturday.
But, more importantly for Liverpool fans hoping to see an end to their club’s 29-year wait to be crowned champions of England again, the Brazilian’s emergence offers yet more hope that Klopp is assembling a squad capable of challenging for the Premier League trophy, with the Reds currently level on points with leaders Manchester City.
The 25-year-old, signed from Monaco for £39.9 million (RM213.7 million) in pre-season, has made a slow and stuttering start to his life in English football.
His 21-minute substitute appearance in last weekend’s victory at Huddersfield is still the only league football he has to his name this season, with Klopp appearing to have done a masterful job of integrating him carefully into his line-up.
But Fabinho’s 90-minute performance in the 4-0 victory over Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday suggested he is capable of playing a significant role in a versatile midfield corps that compares favourably with any in England’s top flight.
“He was very good, very good,” said Klopp of Fabinho, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday.
“The present for his birthday was not that he was in the line-up, it was that we played his favourite system with a double-six! He played really well and it was good to see.”
“He was very aggressive and everything was there. For his first game for a while, his second start from the beginning, it was good, really good.”
“It is quite impressive what people saw. It always helps a player if you play a good game – it helped us and helped him. That was the start, so let’s carry on,” the German boss added.
Xherdan Shaqiri also played in Klopp’s three-man midfield against Belgrade, along with Dutch international Georginio Wijnaldum who has become an integral part of Liverpool’s tactics. Wijnaldum has appeared in every league and Champions League game this season.
Former Stoke winger Shaqiri was hugely influential, using his passing abilities to pick holes in the Red Star defence from a slightly deeper position than usual.
The midfield three currently being turned out on a regular basis by defending champions Manchester City – with Fernandinho in the defensive role and playmakers David and Bernardo Silva alongside him – is considered by many to be the most impressive midfield combination in the league, but Liverpool’s depth and variety can certainly offer a challenge to Pep Guardiola’s side.
Jordan Henderson’s days as an automatic starting choice in Liverpool’s midfield look over although the England international offers brilliant options and cover while James Milner, at 32 and with 500 league appearances to his name, may be slightly relieved if he is no longer required to see quite so much action.
With Naby Keïta, also making an impressive start to life in England after a move from RB Leipzig, adding yet more depth to the middle of the park, Klopp has six front-line midfielders from which to select his starting three on a weekly basis, injuries permitting.
That depth, of course, may well be needed and Henderson, with a hamstring problem, is ruled out of the Cardiff game while Keïta is a doubt with the same injury.
Liverpool’s last trophy success came against Cardiff, in the Carling Cup final nearly seven years ago, although hopes have never been higher of ending that barren run than at present.