During a summer dominated by the name Nabil Fekir and THAT medical examination, other acquisitions were made by Jürgen Klopp. Alisson Becker arrived after so much speculation, along with Naby Keïta (finally!) and of course Xherdan Shaqiri. Nobody saw the £43.7 million Fabinho signing coming. It was a bolt from the blue – no long drawn out negotiations, no dilly dallying around over the small print of the sale. There he was, on LFCTV giving his first interview to a disbelieving Liverpool fan base, quicker than Klopp could say “Boom!”.
A player heavily linked to Mourinho’s Manchester United, Fabinho clearly saw his future with Liverpool under the guidance of Klopp. The 24 year old Brazilian defensive midfielder, who can also play the role of right back, was widely expected to slot straight into the team without any hassle.
That’s not quite the way things are going at the moment, though. The 6ft 2in player has watched all Liverpool’s Premier League games from the bench, if not the stands; Klopp has clearly decided he’s not yet ready to slot into the Liverpool style of play. Klopp does this as precedent – both Andy Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered the same situation early last season, before eventually being unleashed to great effect by Klopp around November and holding their form right through until the season’s end. Both players added vitality and freshness to a campaign that involved qualifying for a top four finish in the league as well as going the distance in the Champions League.
One way in which Fabinho differs from last season’s recruits, though, is that he played a part in every preseason game, perhaps suggesting he would start from the off. However, this can be easily explained as Klopp wanting to assess his signing in new surroundings, with the style of play, tempo and – let’s be fair – the quality of this Liverpool side differing greatly from that of AS Monaco. It should also be noted that Premier League football is far more aggressive and physical than that of Ligue 1, with players required to be more proactive both in and out of possession.
In this way, Fabinho has more of a mountain to climb than the likes of Shaqiri (already blooded in the PL with Stoke) or Keita (who arrived from the Bundesliga, a league that is more comparable physically to the PL). All this said, Klopp has made it clear that he rates Fabinho hugely and sees him as an upgrade to the current squad:
“He is tactically very strong and football smart. I think he improves our squad and there aren’t that many players you can say that about in this moment, because the quality we have already is so high.”
Great things are expected of the player, but to meet these expectations he must adapt to playing in a totally different way than he previously did at Monaco. He is expected to come forward a bit more, playing further up the field and defending on the front foot rather than dropping back as a reflex. His reading and understanding of the game must evolve to match Klopp’s tactical outlook. In the preseason game against Manchester City, Fabinho looked a bit unsettled and uncertain of his role.
He will find his way without a doubt – but it won’t be against Paris Saint Germain. It’s highly unlikely Klopp will consider blooding him against a team consisting of Mbappe and Neymar. Though it’s true that he knows how they play, having previously played against PSG as a Monaco player, playing against them as a Liverpool player requires a different set of tools which he has yet to master.
With such a heavy schedule ahead of us, both in terms of the number of games and the quality of the opposition, it seems most likely we’ll see Fabinho get his first competitive run out in the comparatively low-priority Southampton game. He, along with players like Shaqiri and Sturridge who have had limited minutes so far, will then surely get plenty of chances in the coming weeks. This is the first time in years we’ve had such dependable quality on the bench. Fabinho won’t be happy with such a limited role though, and once he gets up to speed it surely won’t be long until he follows in the footsteps of Robertson and Oxlade-Chamberlain and cements himself for the long term in our starting 11. Patience, it appears, is the name of the game.