In his recent press conference ahead of the Crystal Palace game, Jurgen Klopp gave some insightful comments that could reveal the future, at least in the short-term, when it comes to Fabinho’s place in Liverpool’s starting eleven.
Given the injury that Dejan Lovren is currently sustaining, Klopp has been limited on options when it comes to a centre-back partner for Virgil Van Dijk. With Ragnar Klavan set to join Cagliari and Joel Matip close to full recovery, Joe Gomez stepped in at centre-back and did an excellent job in Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of West Ham last Sunday.
As quoted by James Pearce, when speaking about Gomez in particular, Klopp said: “I was never in doubt about Joe’s ability to play CB. He just needed time. He’s a very good football player. He has a good understanding with Virgil. Matip is close to being back, hopefully in the squad for Monday.”
Having been used primarily as a right-back under Klopp’s tenure, Gomez held down this position for an extended period of time – even earning himself an England call-up in November of last year, where he featured against Germany and Brazil centrally. Undergoing ankle surgery in May, Gomez was ruled out of the World Cup but made a speedy recovery in time for the new season and has staked his claim for a starting spot following his recent performance.
However, Klopp may intend to introduce summer signing Fabinho in this position, following his earlier comments Klopp also remarked: “We have Nat Phillips & Fabinho can play there too.” Intriguing.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Klopp has experimented with a central midfielder being positioned deeper, with Lucas Leiva, James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can all filling defensive positions at one point or another.
It would certainly not be as surprising as some might think, with Dejan Lovren sidelined for roughly “two or three weeks” then a definitive solution needs to be decided – whether that will lead to Gomez keeping his place, Matip being brought back in or Fabinho being introduced remains to be seen.
To make a case for Fabinho at centre back, the first thing that comes to mind is that he is, in fact, a defender turned midfielder to begin with. Fabinho made his initial impact at Monaco as a right-back during the 2013/14 season appearing 27 times for the French side and the regularity of his appearances would increase year-upon-year. Fabinho thoroughly impressed in this defensive capacity, catching the eye of Europe’s elite thanks to his versatility.
Deployed both at right-back and as a defensive midfielder for roughly 3 years, the shift from defender to an out-and-out midfielder can be pinpointed to the beginning of Monaco’s title-winning season of 2016/17. Fabinho would go on to feature 46 times exclusively as a DM during this season and excelled as Monaco romped onwards to an unlikely title victory.
Should Klopp opt to deploy Fabinho as a centre-back, it’s worth looking at the context in which these appearances would occur. With Liverpool’s upcoming fixtures in their favour on paper, visits to Crystal Palace and Leicester while hosting Brighton should see Liverpool dominate possession – resulting in Fabinho pretty much playing as a defensive midfielder anyway.
Speaking of Brighton, this was the game in which Wijnaldum and Emre Can were asked to play as centre-backs across a back three; if you can cast your mind back. Liverpool ran out convincing 5-1 winners, with 59% possession, playing out from the back and picking Brighton apart. Should Fabinho be deployed in a similar role, we could all potentially be getting a strong feeling of Deja Vu in two weeks time.