Liverpool’s Premier League title defence has been one of the worst in recent years as the Merseysiders sit seventh, five points behind fourth-place after 29 games.

The Reds have spectacularly struggled in the post-pandemic year as injuries to their first three centre-backs, Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joël Matip, have been too much to bear.

The intensity in their play was enough to see them through earlier in the season as they sat atop the league table in December but suffered a monumental collapse in the new year as they struggled to break teams down.

Despite parading the same fab front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, something was structurally missing for Liverpool.

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The constant rotation caused by defensive injuries meant Jürgen Klopp tinkered with 19 different centre-back pairings as he frantically sought to plug the absences at the back.

In their worst period of form since the turn of the year, Liverpool have won four in 13 matches as their 68-match unbeaten run at home was also ended. They have lost six successively at Anfield and Fabinho paired captain Jordan Henderson as their title defence rapidly evaporated.

Tactical reset

Henderson’s groin injury prompted Klopp to revert to specialist centre-backs in the young Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak.

Fabinho would return to his preferred position in central midfield after 22 matches, in the Champions League last-16 second leg against RB Leipzig.

In the two games since Liverpool have won both and not conceded a goal. A huge turnaround from the previous 17 when they were top of the Premier League at Christmas; in which they conceded 20 and kept only four clean sheets.

Klopp’s assistant manager, Pep Lijnders, has detailed the importance of Fabinho in midfield. As his disruptive presence gives Liverpool a platform to relieve pressure and attack. 

‘We didn’t lose only our last line (due to injuries to Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip); by losing our last line we lost our midfield as well,’ Lijnders told Liverpool’s website.

‘And that’s where we lost our engine, and that’s a big problem. It’s something that created doubt in many different tactical aspects.

‘We always tried to find the solution, but the solution needs consistency, and that was the problem because there were always different and new problems coming and took the consistency away.

‘He (Fabinho) has the capacity to make the players around him better. It’s really difficult to find players who have the talent to make the other ones flourish.’

“There are just a few players in world football who have this natural capacity to stop counters, for example; most of them just tactically foul.’’

Fabinho has admirably filled in at centre-back for most of the season. At the detriment of the Champions.

The Brazil international was pivotal in midfield as the Reds won the Champions League and first-ever Premier League title in back-to-back years. Fabinho excels at the heart of a midfield trio alongside Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum

‘He just always puts the team above himself. In the same package, you get someone who is only concerned about making the team better, there is no space for ego,’ added Lijnders on Fabinho.

‘He is a real team player. Luckily we have three of them, Gini and Hendo have this characteristic as well.

‘Having two midfielders like that is like the queen in the chess game. You lose the queen, who defends in offense.

‘You need two who can control a game by being dominant without the ball. That’s what we are searching for.’

Roaring Red machine?

Liverpool will hope Fabinho’s presence in midfield can propel them to a roaring end to the season. 

Although the top four might already be too far, getting as close as possible must be the priority as they chase Champions League glory with a quarterfinal tie with Real Madrid next month. 

With Fabinho’s robust presence at the middle of the park, his flair teammates including Thiago Alcântara, the full-backs and the front three are set for a late flourish to the campaign.

Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin
March 25, 2021
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Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.


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