Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool line-ups rarely have many surprises.
The Reds' starting XI is very settled and it is possible to reel off the German coach's preferred team with relative ease.
However, every now and then, he does like to switch things up, especially when new players are brought into the club who provide different options to what is previously in the squad.
That is very much the case with Thiago Alcantara, who is unlike any other central midfielder that Klopp had available to him.
Technically brilliant, tactically astute, and a creative controller who dictates games from deep, Thiago is not the hustling, bustling, bruising type Liverpool have tended to use in midfield in recent seasons.
His arrival on Merseyside arguably asks a question of Fabinho’s role. The Brazilian has been supreme in defensive midfield since his arrival from Monaco.
Anchoring the Liverpool unit with superb physicality, deceptive range and speed, and tremendous defensive awareness, reading and snuffing out danger, Fabinho elevated Liverpool’s performances and provided structure to their more aggressive and sometimes unhinging pressing approach.
But Thiago’s arrival allows Klopp to use Fabinho in other positions.
And so, when Liverpool faced Chelsea in the second outing of the Premier League season, Klopp shifted his team around.
Thiago was only introduced at half-time, replacing Jordan Henderson who had started, but Fabinho slid into centre-back alongside Virgil van Dijk.
The Brazilian has played in this position before and there have been indications Liverpool are happy to have Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as their three centre-backs with Fabinho available in emergencies.
As such, it is possible that the 26-year-old will play in defence on several occasions this term.
Prior to the match, Klopp explained his selection, stating that Gomez and Matip missed out through injury.
“Joe is not a real concern – it’s probably only today. Same with Billy [Koumetio],” he told Sky Sports.
“With Joel, we have to see – it could take a few days longer. [It’s] muscle. After injuries, that’s how it is. He looked perfect in the pre-season since he trained. But now he has got a little problem and we have to react, so that’s how it is. That’s why we start how we start."
Thankfully for Klopp and Liverpool, Fabinho slotted into his makeshift position with consummate professionalism.
Per WhoScored, he completed 97% of his passes, the highest figure of any outfield starting player on the pitch.
Of course, playing against 10 men for the entire second half meant there was little pressure on the ball, but in just the first half, he maintained a 94% pass completion rate.
Defensively, Fabinho was flawless. Playing as the right-sided centre-back, he was often up against Timo Werner, who likes to slide out to the Chelsea left flank to receive the ball and make darting runs in behind opposing defences.
Yet Fabinho handled him with ease.
Only once did Werner squeeze clear of his grasp when Thiago felled the German for a penalty. Fabinho moved wide to close down Werner but could not shift his feet quickly enough as he attempted to shadow the Chelsea attacker.
The German turned and dribbled away from Fabinho, which left Thiago reaching for the ball and clipping his heels.
Otherwise, Werner spent the entire match in Fabinho’s pocket, unable to wriggle clear despite making some excellent runs off the ball.
Fabinho was especially impactful when he stepped into midfield to win possession. He made four interceptions in the match. No other teammate made more than one. He also attempted seven tackles, winning four of them, each of which were team-leading figures.
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He also made one block and did not lose possession once.
In one-on-ones, Fabinho showed his midfield qualities. He was quick enough to deal with opposing players in space, closed down the ball effectively, didn't allow simple forward passes to be completed, and was more than willing to press, even when vacating his position, something that is necessary in Liverpool’s aggressive defensive approach.
Of course, in this instance, Fabinho featured in defence due to the unavailability of other players.
Should Gomez and Matip remain fit throughout the season, it would be surprising to see Fabinho in the back four on too many more occasions. But his performance relative to Gomez and Matip was impressive.
Gomez nailed down the starting position next to Van Dijk when fit last season and impressed, but his numbers across the campaign do not compare to Fabinho’s against Chelsea.
In 2019/20, Gomez completed 88.9% of his passes, 8% fewer than Fabinho. He also averaged just 1.17 tackles per 90 minutes, 1.12 blocks per 90, and 0.85 interceptions per 90.
Similarly, Joel Matip’s numbers do not measure to Fabinho’s performance. at Stamford Bridge. Last season, Matip completed 87.2% of his passes, made 1.67 tackles per 90, 0.90 blocks per 90, and 0.64 interceptions per 90.
Of course, the stark difference in sample size has a massive impact here.
Fabinho had one excellent performance, whereas Gomez and Matip produced their numbers over the course of an entire season. Suggesting that Fabinho will replicate seven attempted tackles and four successful ones throughout a full campaign would be ill-advised.
Nevertheless, Fabinho performed excellently in the role when he was called upon. And at present, that is all that he can do.
He has played there before, as well, most notably in Liverpool's 0-0 draw with Bayern Munich at Anfield in 2019.
That he can play at centre-back and play well at in the position is yet another feather in the cap of the Liverpool squad.
He provides flexibility, depth, and quality, no matter where he plays, and the Chelsea performance proved it.
And combined with the arrival of Thiago, Liverpool may now have the ability to try out the tactical shift with Fabinho on a more regular basis.