It’s a very big thing to earn the German’s vote of confidence, for his Liverpool juggernaut is something that’s taken just over three years to assemble.
» Top New Releases in Books
Loading the page...
And when Fabinho was handed his first serious Premier League audition at Arsenal in early November, there was a clear case of stage fright.
There wasn’t a lack of effort or heart, he was simply out of tune. The Reds looked like they had signed the wrong defensive midfielder when he was booked for clouting Lucas Torreira with a flailing arm.
Klopp claimed back in September that the £44million signing may need up to six months to adapt to Liverpool’s rock-and-roll football, and after Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had to endure similar settling in periods, there was every reason to believe him.
Then came the Champions League trip to Paris. It was a night when the tables turned, and not only in Group C.
Klopp went for the tried and trusted midfield trio of Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner in a quest for solidity.
It was a rude awakening as the Reds were overrun – the screen that had helped protect the best defence in the Premier League ruthlessly exposed.
That posed the question: why was over £110m’s worth of midfield talent, bought to evolve this Liverpool team, sitting on the bench?
Perhaps that’s when the penny dropped, because Klopp began to shuffle the pack.
Naby Keita’s dynamism and energy stuck out like a sore thumb in a midweek win at Burnley while Xherdan Shaqiri’s web of creativity vs Watford and Everton was something the side has been starved of since Philippe Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona.
But as the Reds top the table by four points at Christmas, it’s been Fabinho who’s given Klopp’s side an added edge over recent weeks and could prove the difference come May.
It was his stark contribution in the Merseyside derby that first brought this realisation to fruition.
The Brazilian is not the most aesthetically pleasing footballer on the planet but his grit and dictatorship in the middle of the park was something that Anfield hasn’t seen since the days of Javier Mascherano.
He won eight duels, made six tackles, two clearances and one interception with a pass accuracy of 86 per cent.
His long bandy legs also ran 11.4 kilometres, more than any other Liverpool player – despite the fact he was subbed on 75 minutes.
Since arriving on Merseyside, Fabinho has been stapled to a strict gym programme which is centred around strengthening his thighs and core, and we are now beginning to see the benefits of that additional power.
He’s now giving Liverpool a new dimension with his positional presence by kickstarting attacks with forward-thinking movements.
His assist to Sadio Mane in the win over United was the perfect example, a perfectly weighted clipped ball over a deep defence. This kind of dare and adventure from a No 6 when it’s easier to keep possession is priceless.
The signs were there in the win at Molineux too, a lung-busting run up the right flank saw the ball cut-back for Mohamed Salah to cutely flick home.
Liverpool fans will do well to recall the last time Jordan Henderson came off the lead and took a risk to try and open something up.
Manchester City have had their unexpected wobble, rocked at Stamford Bridge by Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea before suffering a surprise 3-2 defeat against Crystal Palace at the Etihad on Saturday.
Klopp’s side will eventually have their moment of fright too, maybe when you least expect it. But with Fabinho in the side, it’s certainly less likely to happen.
If reports suggesting Thomas Tuchel wants to bring the former Monaco man back across the channel to France are true, it’s a certainty he’ll have to think again.