Fab-ulous? Running the rule over Fabinho on rare Liverpool start
Liverpool fans were given a rare glimpse of £39million close-season signing Fabinho on Wednesday as he was handed a start for the 4-0 Champions League victory over Red Star, and will surely have been impressed with what they saw.
Prior to the visit of the Serbian side, the Brazil international had made only one start for his new club – in the 2-1 EFL Cup defeat to Chelsea.
Across the Premier League and Champions League, Fabinho had been afforded just 35 minutes of action by Jurgen Klopp, who cited the need for the 25-year-old to acclimatise to his style of play and to English football.
Injuries to fellow midfielders Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita saw Fabinho given his opportunity from the start under the Anfield lights against Red Star, with Klopp challenging him to "close the gap" on his team-mates - and he certainly did that.
It was a nervy start for the former Monaco man, who – after seeing the early exchanges pass him by in his role as the deepest-lying midfielder – was caught napping by the lively Richmond Boakye to cries of "man on" that went unheeded.
He was not afraid to put in a tackle, although his enthusiastic approach initially drew mixed results.
A well-executed challenge to dispossess the advancing Filip Stojkovic after eight minutes was soon followed by a clumsy effort on El Fardou Ben.
If his baby pink boots hadn’t already caught the eye of referee Daniel Siebert, that tackle – which could have been penalised with a yellow card on another day – will certainly have won him some unwanted attention from the officials.
But Fabinho noticeably grew in confidence as the game wore on.
Having earlier shown understandable signs of rust, Fabinho was soon matching midfield partner Georginio Wijnaldum for willingness to get on the ball and assuredness in defence.
Some neat interplay with Mohamed Salah down the right on his first real venture into the Red Star half almost played in the Egypt international for Liverpool's opener, which soon followed thanks to Roberto Firmino’s deflected shot from the centre of the box.
He was equally happy dropping into the centre of defence to allow captain Virgil van Dijk the freedom to carry the ball forward on occasion.
Another charge over the halfway line late in the half deserved a better outcome but Salah’s strike just before the break put Liverpool in total control.
Fabinho himself tried his luck from distance early in the second half, but could only skew wide from just outside the box before Salah made it 3-0 from a contentious penalty.
A loose pass that sparked a Red Star counter was a rare blip for Fabinho in the second 45 minutes, although the attack came to nothing and Sadio Mane - having missed a spot-kick of his own a few minutes earlier - made absolutely certain of the three points 10 minutes from time.
He ended the match with more passes in the opposition half than anyone else on the pitch along with two chances created going forward, while defensively he had a match-leading nine tackles and won all six of his aerial duels.
Fabinho may not command many headlines in Thursday’s newspapers, but nor has he shown himself to be out of step with Liverpool's style of play on a hugely positive night.
Klopp has asserted that Fabinho "will make us better" and his defensive industry coupled with his knack for picking the right attacking pass will have won him some fans on Wednesday.
With a first full 90 minutes under his belt and with Liverpool nursing a handful of midfield injuries, more game time will surely follow after a slow start to his time on Merseyside.