There was a time at the beginning of this season in which Fabinho, Thiago and Jordan Henderson lined up alongside each other in the Merseyside Derby.
For reasons well publicised we drew that game 2-2, but the fluidity and performance of the midfield and frontline was superb.
Thiago won Man of the Match on full debut and compilations of his incredible 90 minutes did the rounds for weeks afterwards.
But his role as an intricate, clever, passing midfielder was made possible because of the platform that Fabinho provided him.
Because of injuries and Jurgen Klopp’s fear of deploying untested centre-backs together, we had to wait five months to see the combination of Fabinho and Thiago in midfield again.
It would be amiss to say it’s been worth the wait, because we’re eighth in the Premier League – but last night’s victory over Rb Leipzig showed what an insanely good midfield we actually have when our best players are deployed in their rightful positions.
Just seeing the pair in midfield led me to tweet this before kick-off, and I’m pleased to say it was one of a few that definitely aged well!
Big game for Thiago tonight – in the Champions League – his bread and butter. And for the first time, he's got Fabinho alongside him doing the dirty work. He was signed for these games – hope we see his genius at work.
— Jordan Chamberlain (@Jordan_AC90) March 10, 2021
Fabinho’s composure is perhaps second only to Virgil van Dijk – not just at Liverpool, but maybe anywhere in Europe.
The Brazilian did a fine job covering at centre-half, but my word, wasn’t it fun to see the man nicknamed the lighthouse dictating centrally?!
“Best in the world at number 6 position, it is clear,” Klopp said post-match, while highlighting the fact Fabinho told him he really doesn’t fancy a switch back to defence. Who could blame him?
It’s probably time we recognise Fab as indispensable as Alisson, van Dijk and Mo Salah – and therefore treat his position as sacrosanct – just like we do theirs.
With Fabinho acting as the team’s pivot, it allowed Thiago to drift around and find clever pockets.
Off the ball, the Spaniard was far, far improved – likely because the defensive responsibility of anchoring the side wasn’t on his shoulders.
Time and time again, a ball would be launched forward by Rb Leipzig, but Fabinho was simply standing in the right place to head it to a Liverpool player or shoot out an absurdly long limb to thwart the counter. Positionally, he was phenomenal. The ball just ends up where he is, just like it was ending up with our opponents during his absence.
When the ball was at Liverpool feet, Thiago took influence over it – recycling possession or injecting speed into our game when runners made themselves available.
His Karate Kid pass that made a chance for Salah in the first-half was a thing of beauty, and the better he got, the more confidence he oozed, even attempting a bicycle kick before half-time.
The numbers behind their performance..
In Budapest, Fab competed in 17 duels and made 16 interceptions – which is a career high.
Thiago made six tackles, winning four of them, and recovered the ball on eight occasions…
It’s funny – the assumption was that Fabinho’s return to midfield would simply mean Thiago wouldn’t need to do as much off the ball – but the former Bayern Munich man was just much better at it.
Often, Fab would win the header, or make the initial interception, and Thiago would tidy up afterwards.
It was a brilliant tandem job, with Gini Wijnaldum complementing both in a marauding role which suits him better than the holding midfield one, too.
From his defensive midfield position Fabinho intercepted the ball 16 times against RB Leipzig.
A career-high number for interceptions and more than he managed in his last five appearances at centre back combined.
This contributed to 21 ball recoveries for Liverpool. pic.twitter.com/d11WONZIMa
— The Tactical Times (@Tactical_Times) March 11, 2021
Thiago looked like a different player with Fabinho alongside him in midfield tonight. Made more tackles than any other #LFC player in his time on the pitch (4), eight recoveries, and created one big chance. Jurgen Klopp will be wondering why he didn't try this earlier!
— David Lynch (@dmlynch) March 10, 2021
So, is this the way forward from now on?
There is pretty much no way Klopp can move Fabinho back into central defence. Nat Phillips was heroic and our hope now is that he forges a partnership with Ozan Kabak that gets us through until the end of the season.
With Fabinho protecting them, their job is far easier, anyway.
Let’s not forget, Rb Leipzig are 2nd in Germany and just two points behind Bayern Munich. If Nat and Ozan can handle their attackers in a Champions League knockout clash, they should be trusted in the Premier League, too.
Fab must be an automatic starter in midfield, and based on last night, Thiago will thrive alongside him. Wijnaldum was good, but so was Naby Keita when he came on, with the Guinean our only shining light from Sunday’s Fulham defeat.
I’d be happy to see Fab, Thiago and one of Wijnaldum or Keita in a midfield three until Jordan Henderson is back – when we can recreate the Merseyside Derby midfield as mentioned earlier.
Is Klopp to blame for shifting Fabinho into defence originally?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Let’s not forget, Fabinho played as a centre-back for most of the games until Christmas, and Liverpool were top of the Premier League.
Fabinho was producing exceptional displays and Henderson was fit to anchor the midfield, mostly.
Perhaps Klopp’s biggest mistake was not trusting Phillips earlier in the campaign, as this would have allowed Fab a return to his favoured role.
There have been lots of times when our midfield has badly missed Fabinho’s unique influence while he’s been at centre-back, with Phillips on the bench.
Going forward, we can’t see it happening again – and we’re glad the mistake has been rectified – as the perseverance with deploying midfielders at the back during our miserable January and Februarys did nobody any good.
Still – we’re in the Champions League quarterfinals and with a few more players coming back and an injection of positivity amongst the group and fans – anything can happen.
In case you missed it, here’s some highlights of Fab and Thiago last night. Enjoy!
Fabinho & Thiago vs. RB Leipzig
— CF Comps (@CF_Comps) March 10, 2021