From spluttering start to battering Barcelona – Fabinho’s debut Liverpool season hints at big future

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By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_

Fabinho’s first season at Liverpool certainly was a successful one.

The Brazilian was a surprise addition to the squad. Fans and journalists alike were caught off-guard as the Reds announced him the day after the heartbreaking loss in Kiev.

After a slow start – Jurgen Klopp took his time to integrate the former Monaco man in a prolonged bedding-in period – his career on Merseyside went from 0 to 100 faster than the Formula One cars in the annual race around the principality.

Once the league debut was out of the way on October 20th, there was no looking back. Talk of his failure to settle in England and a potential move to PSG in January passed without any hint of truth, and he appeared 41 times in all competitions throughout the season.

And it wasn’t long after he started playing regularly that he proved just how good a signing he has been. After years of links with a move to Manchester United, he was showing the Reds’ rivals exactly what they were missing.

He understands the game. It sounds like a simple thing, but it’s an attribute that separates the good players from the great ones. He reads the play so well and always seems to be in the right position to snuff out danger.

More than that, he is so important in the transition. He has the ability to pick out a positive pass immediately after winning the ball, get the Reds back in the ascendancy and contribute to Liverpool’s trademark counter-attacking football in a major way.

Fabinho has a lot in common with the legendary Xabi Alonso. Apart from the fact that they are now both Champions League winners at Anfield, they share experience of a deeper role, where they are the link between the defence and attack – effectively the engine of the midfield.

Xabi thinks that too. He told Liverpoolfc.com: “I think that we could have similarities in terms of the position, in terms of how we want to connect with the players around, how he makes the players around him better players, making them play easier and play better.

“Taking many small, correct decisions is part of being a midfielder and he does it very well.”

Perhaps his most eye-catching showing in 2018/19 – and possibly one of the best individual performances from anyone all season – came on May 7th as Barcelona visited Anfield.

We all know what happened that day. Liverpool needed a miracle to come back from a three-goal deficit after the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, and they got one. It has to be said that everyone stepped up that night and put in an excellent shift, but the Brazilian was absolutely imperious on the night.

Not only did he keep Lionel Messi quiet – no easy feat – he bullied Luis Suarez all night, turning the Uruguayan into a victim and preventing him from performing many of his nefarious shenanigans.

His physical performance was impressive, but even more so was his attitude and focus. He picked up an early yellow card on the night and, in a game of such magnitude and passion, could easily have lost his head and ended up back in the changing room for an early shower.

But no, his level of aggression was perfect – not too high that he flew into tackles and took unnecessary risks, but high enough to stamp his authority on the game and beat the Barcelona midfield into submission. Fabrizio Romano’s tweet summed it up briefly, and perfectly.

The good news for Liverpool is that there is only more of it to come. A first season in a new country, league and footballing culture can always be a steep learning curve, so if Fabinho can produce what he did in his debut year, imagine what he has left in his locker!

He wasn’t involved with Brazil in the Copa America this summer – their loss – and so he had a full break to rest and recover ahead of what will be a long and draining campaign as the Reds gear up to compete in seven competitions.

If more tireless, dominant performances are to come from Liverpool’s No.3, then we can be very, very excited about what he might help the team achieve in 2019/20.

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