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€50m Fabinho a perfect fit for Klopp blueprint

Ball-winning Brazilian to play key role as ‘No 6’ anchorman

Fabinho will make Liverpool more solid in midfield as well as starting attacks quickly. Photo: Getty Images
Fabinho will make Liverpool more solid in midfield as well as starting attacks quickly. Photo: Getty Images

Daniel Zeqiri

The sun had set over Merseyside late on Monday night when Fabinho and Rebeca Tavares flew back to Monaco from John Lennon Airport.

On the plane, Fabinho and his wife clinked glasses filled with Champagne, as Tavares toasted the moment by saying, "We are Reds, baby," with the sort of enthusiasm you see at a roulette table in a Las Vegas casino.

The €50m (£43.7m) deal surprised everyone, aside from those involved directly because Liverpool - with sporting director Michael Edwards leading negotiations - had quietly and aggressively been pursuing the Brazilian since February.

In an interview with French radio, Fabinho revealed that Liverpool's determination to sign him had been more focused and personal than the offers made by other parties over the last two seasons, including those from both Manchester clubs, Paris St-Germain, Juventus, Inter Milan and most recently, Atletico Madrid.

"I spoke on the phone with (Roberto) Firmino," Fabinho said. "I know him personally. I was also able to speak with the manager and people who work at the club. They gave me a lot of confidence."

During discussions, Fabinho was apparently given the same sort of treatment by Jurgen Klopp that convinced Virgil van Dijk to wait six months for his move to Anfield - even with Pep Guardiola wanting him to go to City.

The acquisition will boost morale at Anfield following the pain of a Champions League final defeat, when a gulf in class in central midfield was evident.

With Naby Keita also due to arrive, if Liverpool's pursuit of Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir proves successful, Klopp could have a completely new midfield axis to transplant into his preferred 4-3-3 system.

Fabinho will be asked to hold the fort in front of the back four, so what can Liverpool fans expect from their new anchorman?

His career so far

Fabinho, who has been a fixture in Monaco's first-team for several seasons, is still only 24. He moved to Europe as a 19-year-old when Real Madrid snapped him up from Fluminense. However, Fabinho played only 14 minutes of senior football in the famous white jersey, making 30 appearances in the B team during his one season in Spain.

Real decided that the Brazilian was expendable in the summer of 2013 and sold him to Monaco, where he has since established himself.

The 24-year-old has only four caps for Brazil and missed out on a place in their World Cup squad, though he does have to contend with competition from Fernandinho, Casemiro, Paulinho and Rene Augusto in coach Tite's midfield.

What type of player is he?

Fabinho has filled transfer gossip columns over the past few windows as a ball-winning central midfielder of some repute, but it was not always that way.

Considered a right-back in his early days, it was not until the second half of the 2014-15 season that Leonardo Jardim moved him to the defensive midfield berth. It proved to be a masterstroke.

A 0-0 home draw against Paris St-Germain on January 3 of 2015 was Fabinho's first match in this position and he was utilised there again in Monaco's famous 3-1 win away at Arsenal in the Champions League the next month.

A quick glance at Fabinho's physical profile and this positional change makes sound sense. At 6'2", he always looked a little bit too tall and rangy for a full-back, who tend to be more squat and agile to cope in one-against-one situations against tricky wide players.

Fabinho was a midfield mainstay in Jardim's league-winning Monaco team of 2016-17, typically partnering Tiemouo Bakayoko as the two deeper players in their 4-2-2-2 system.

Bakayoko was generally the more progressive of the two in a box-to-box role, with Fabinho sweeping up behind and screening the centre-backs.

His height and the position he plays will draw comparison with Steven Nzonzi and even compatriot Gilberto Silva.

Much of his best work is exactly what you would expect from a player in this position: he ranked very highly in Ligue 1 last season for duel success, tackles won and aerial dominance.

Breaking up play, reading the game and protecting his back four might be Fabinho's principal job but he can also play when he gets the ball.

Monaco, like Liverpool, were a potent counter-attacking side and Fabinho was tasked with shifting the ball forwards quickly once possession was regained.

His days at right-back also mean he can carry the ball should space open up, and his knowledge of that position also offers Liverpool versatility.

An added bonus is that Fabinho is an excellent penalty-taker, scoring 19 goals from the spot so far in his career.

Where will he fit in?

As the deepest midfielder in their 4-3-3, is the simple answer. Klopp sometimes opts for two sitting midfielders against stronger opponents - something more like a 4-2-3-1 - but he typically prefers one deep-lying midfielder flanked by two energetic No 8s.

Jordan Henderson and James Milner have performed admirably in the holding role, particularly in Europe, but in Fabinho Liverpool now have a specialist with more legs to cover space.

That is an important point given the number of players that Liverpool commit forward both in attack and when pressing or counter-pressing in Klopp's trademark 'gegenpress' style of play.

That style can yield high rewards but also carries an element of risk, placing a strain on those in the back-half of the team to defend in isolation high up the pitch.

Fabinho has shown he can cope in these circumstances, and his presence might also allow Liverpool's full-backs to push even further forward, with the Brazilian then slotting across into the space they vacate to thwart counter-attacks.

Fabinho will not add a lot of extra creativity, but he might add a little more control and authority in possession.

Helter-skelter

Liverpool reached a Champions League final with a midfield that had little interest, or capability, to dictate games through possession - hence why their games can appear a little helter-skelter.

This approach works well against teams who try to open up and play against them, when Liverpool can 'create' by pinching the ball back and breaking.

Liverpool have had more trouble under Klopp when teams put 10 men behind the ball and sit deep.

"Put them in traffic" was how Carlos Carvalhal described his Swansea team's tactics after a 1-0 win over Klopp's side.

Against packed defences, a light is shone on the lack of technical quality in Liverpool's midfield who struggle to break sides down.

Keita, and perhaps Fekir, if he joins the Liverpool revolution, will be tasked with improving that while Fabinho provides the platform.

Who will miss out?

Emre Can is set to depart on a Bosman, and you would expect both Fabinho and Keita to start given the investments made in them.

That leaves one midfield slot up for grabs. This could be filled by a more progressive option, such as Fekir or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or Henderson or Milner for a bit more defensive security.

Henderson, Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum showed that they are worthy of the shirt during Liverpool's Champions League run, but all three of them are likely to be rotational options next season as Liverpool look to mount a challenge on multiple fronts.

Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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