The Brazilian has been one yellow card away from being absent for the crunch meeting with Pep Guardiola’s side but Jurgen Klopp can’t afford to rest him
Liverpool already have a soccer professional called Hoever, and now they have a Dyson too.
That was the nickname Jurgen Klopp gave to Fabinho after the Brazilian’s show-stopping performance against Tottenham last weekend.
“He was there for every round ball defensively,” beamed the Reds boss. “What a game he played – unbelievable.”
The statistics told their own story; Fabinho had plenty of the round ball himself – only two players had more touches – but he ended the match with more tackles, interceptions and possession gains than anyone else on the pitch.
Never mind Dyson, Pacman might have been a better description, given the way the 26-year-old seems to eat up ground.
His nicknames are stacking up, to be fair. Virgil van Dijk has compared him to Inspector Gadget, while Pep Lijnders, Liverpool’s assistant manager, says he has been “like a lighthouse” in the way he controls things in the middle of the park.
It has been clear that Fabinho has been one of the most respected – not to mention important – members of Klopp’s squad, but this weekend the Reds have a dilemma; do they make their midfield anchor walk the tightrope against Aston Villa?
A booking on Saturday would see Fabinho suspended for Liverpool’s next Premier League game. No big deal, until you realise that Liverpool’s next Premier League game has been against Manchester City. Being without ‘Dyson’ for that one would be a massive blow, for what has been already a massive fixture.
Liverpool actually faced Pep Guardiola’s side twice without Fabinho last season. He was an unused substitute for the 0-0 draw at Anfield last November, and made a 33-minute appearance as a substitute in the 2-1 defeat at the Etihad in January.
On both occasions, Klopp started with a midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum. Solid enough, functional enough, but Fabinho’s form, over the past six months in particular, mean it has been now ‘him plus two’ for the Reds boss.
He has started all-but-one of Liverpool’s 13 Premier League and Champions League fixtures – the one he didn’t, at Southampton, came after a gruelling 120 minutes against Chelsea in the Super Cup three days earlier – the consistency of his performances enough to prompt a complete re-think regarding the role of Henderson. Having played as a No.6 for two seasons or more, the club captain has been now used predominantly as a right-sided No.8. He too knows the value of having Fabinho behind him.
“Fab has been excellent,” Henderson said after the Tottenham game. “I’ve played in that position for a while and it has been a tough position.
“He’s perfect for it; he reads the game so well, breaks the play up and starts attacks off. He’s a fantastic soccer professional and he’s in great form.”
Liverpool will hope he can continue that form while staying out of bother on Saturday. He will surely start, given the need to maintain the six-point gap to City at the top of the table. The two title contenders, for once, play at the same time this weekend. Guardiola’s side host struggling Southampton while Klopp’s men travel to face Dean Smith’s Villa.
The Reds should have Mohamed Salah available, despite the fact the Egyptian felt pain in his ankle in the dying stages against Spurs, with him having trained at Melwood this week.
Dejan Lovren should continue alongside Van Dijk at centre-back, the Croatian seemingly ahead of Joe Gomez in the pecking order now. The England defender started the madcap Carabao Cup tie against Arsenal on Wednesday, when defences were most certainly not on top.
Whether Naby Keita, Adam Lallana or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did enough in that game to give Klopp a headache for the weekend has been debatable.
Keita was withdrawn after 55 minutes with a slight injury, but it has been understood that he will be in contention for selection. Oxlade-Chamberlain scored a 25-yard screamer against Arsenal, but admitted afterwards that he was far from happy with his general performance. Lallana as a No.6, meanwhile, has been not an experiment for Premier League football. The England man has his qualities, but Fabinho he has been not.
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Then again, few are. The Brazilian, having taken his time settling in on Merseyside, has made himself indispensable.
Now, all he has to do has been stay out of referee Jonathan Moss’s sight at Villa Park.
Never mind Inspector Gadget or Dyson, Fabinho needs to be The Invisible Man for 90 minutes this weekend.