Fabinho's Revival: How Liverpool's Inverted Full-Back System Has Reignited the Brazilian's Career

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Thu, 18/05/2023
Fabinho's Revival: How Liverpool's Inverted Full-Back System Has Reignited the Brazilian's Career
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Liverpool midfielder Fabinho's career at Anfield appeared to be heading towards a bleak ending not too long ago. The Brazilian had struggled to recapture his previous form throughout the season, contributing to Liverpool's collective struggles. Fabinho's decline was a crucial factor behind their vulnerability, which resulted in their slim chances of securing a top-four finish instead of challenging for the Premier League title.

Traditionally, Fabinho played a vital role in Liverpool's 4-3-3 system, patrolling the center of the pitch from touchline to touchline in front of the defense. He was the lighthouse, the Dyson, symbolizing his responsibilities. However, this season, Fabinho found it challenging to fulfill his role effectively. The strain of previous campaigns seemed to have caught up with him, compounded by the lack of support from his midfield partners.

Nevertheless, Liverpool's switch to an inverted full-back system has turned the tables for Jurgen Klopp's side as a whole, as well as for Fabinho individually. Since experimenting with this new approach against Arsenal on April 9, Liverpool has remained unbeaten in eight games, securing seven consecutive wins.

"The real reason for the improvement is the general defending," stated Klopp in April. "There are moments where we defend well and Trent can pop up in a different space, but it has helped Fabinho as well. You can see how he’s flourishing now."

Earlier this year, Fabinho was dropped from the team due to his declining form, reaching its lowest point in the 3-0 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion in January. He did not start any of Liverpool's next four games. A substitute appearance against the same side a few weeks later threatened to become a defining moment in his Liverpool career when Fabinho's clumsy challenge and subsequent perplexed reaction left a lasting impression.

While Fabinho showed signs of improvement in February, consistency eluded him. However, in the past eight games, the 29-year-old has quietly performed well alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, who assumes a second No. 6 role when in possession. This partnership has provided Fabinho with the much-needed support he lacked earlier.

Liverpool's biggest concern this season has been their vulnerability in transition, with opponents finding it easy to exploit the heart of Klopp's side with speed. However, with Alexander-Arnold now occupying a central position in possession, if Liverpool loses the ball and the opposition launches a counter-attack, Alexander-Arnold is there alongside Fabinho, creating a defensive shield and reducing Fabinho's ground to cover.

When the opposition settles in possession, Alexander-Arnold reverts to right-back, leaving Fabinho as the lone No. 6 again. However, when Liverpool sets up defensively, this becomes less of a problem as other players can provide cover.

Liverpool's typical shape can be seen in their average position graphic from their 3-0 win over Leicester on Monday, with Fabinho (No. 3) and Alexander-Arnold (No. 66) operating as the two No. 6 players.

Fabinho's touch map against Leicester highlights his shifted responsibilities, primarily covering the left side of the pitch. Comparing this to their 1-0 defeat earlier in the season against Nottingham Forest, a team of similar ability to Leicester, shows a notable difference in Fabinho's touches and position in possession.

Fabinho's recent performances indicate a more confident and assured player who has regained form during a run of 13 consecutive starts. The presence of Alexander-Arnold seems to have given him a boost to be more proactive.