The Class of 2018/19 is a short series in which, ahead of the new season starting on Friday, The Anfield Talk contributors review the 2018/19 season’s of Liverpool’s squad.
Here is @ianyoungkop, reviewing Fabinho’s debut season for the Reds…
From the moment his signing announcement surprised us all on Twitter, Fabinho has been a player who makes you sit up and take notice. He was a player I thought was going to end up at Manchester United. For almost 10 years I’d wanted to see a replacement for Mascherano and finally I felt it could be about to happen. I was a huge fan of Emre Can and thought he could’ve been that replacement, but when he decided to walk away, my need for that sort of player was ignited once again.
When Fabinho first took to the field, despite showing individual moments of class, it was evident that the speed and physicality of the Premier League had caught him cold. Like Robertson and Oxlade-Chamberlain before him, Klopp decided it would be more beneficial to ease Fabinho in.
The boss used Fabinho sparingly over the opening months of the season, so sparingly in fact that rumours began surfacing that PSG were circling to take him back to France and several articles were saying that Fabinho had become “bored” with life in Liverpool. We needn’t have worried though, as Fabinho’s wife Rebeca declared to her thousands of followers on her social media channels that Liverpool was their home and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Then something changed around about December: Fabinho found his feet. He both started creating spaces for himself and his teammates and severely limiting the opposing midfielders’ time on the ball. He began stealing the ball and controlling the midfield almost effortlessly. He became so good that he started doing the job that Gini and Milner had only been able to do collectively, on his own.
It doesn’t take Liverpool fans long to recognise when they have a top class talent, and pretty soon the Brazilian became a fan favourite, not only excelling in his defensive midfield position but also deputising at centre back. His form in the defensive role meant that Henderson could be afforded the time to play further upfield, getting the best out of our captain.
But Fabinho was more than a midfield destroyer: he was also able to pick out a player in space and find that killer pass on occasion. He was giving us 7/8 out of 10 in the majority of games and it didn’t take long for the rest of the league to start paying attention to his quality. In the Champions League, monstrous performances against the likes of Bayern and Barcelona made the rest of Europe do the same. His emotions at the end of the Barcelona game, belting out YNWA at the top of his lungs along with the fans, also went a long way in winning over the hearts of Kopites all over the world.
It was time for the Champions League final, and everyone expected that this would be an open attacking affair: Liverpool and Spurs were teams with top quality attacking players, and as they both came from the Premier League they would be familiar enough with each others’ game plans to find the spaces. As it turned out, it became a messy, ugly affair, with the defences playing far more of a role. An early goal from Liverpool meant we could withdraw a little, and let players like Fabinho stifle the game. It really was the perfect sort of match for him, as he was one of the better players in a midfield that had control for almost the entire game (except maybe a 15/20 minute spell where Alisson had to be at his Golden Glove-winning best).
Despite a slow start, Fabinho has more than played his part in our 97 point gaining league season, as well as bringing European Cup number 6 home. Fabinho has a bright future at Liverpool: he’s only 25 and, given he isn’t fastest player alive anyway and it’s not crucial to his playstyle, Fabinho could feasibly run our midfield for the next 6-7 years. For me he’s already the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the best defensive midfielder in Europe, if not the world. To use a phrase I’ve used several times this year, he’s become our Van Dijk of midfield.