Liverpool look exposed without Fabinho amid fears history will repeat itself

The Brazilian was substituted with a hamstring injury, casting doubt over his involvement in the FA Cup and Champions League finals for the Reds

Richard Jolly
At Villa Park
Wednesday 11 May 2022 12:34 BST
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<p>Fabinho suffered a hamstring injury at Villa Park</p>

Fabinho suffered a hamstring injury at Villa Park

Perhaps a tale can be told in three Champions League finals. Two days after the first, in 2018, Liverpool announced they were signing Fabinho. His debut year at Anfield concluded in victory in the second, in 2019. Now the risk is he will miss their third in swift succession. He is the player Pep Lijnders has called Liverpool’s “lighthouse” but a hamstring injury cast a dark pall over a night when they drew level on points with Manchester City.

“He is quite positive but I am not quite sure what I can make of that,” said Jurgen Klopp, his innate optimism colliding with the realities of how long it takes the body to heal. Maybe, in a cruel way, the story came full circle. Fabinho pulled up while in rather more distant pursuit of for former Red Philippe Coutinho than he would otherwise have been. The £142m windfall Liverpool received for Coutinho – some £125m more than Barcelona will get when his move to Aston Villa becomes permanent – is widely remembered for financing the deals for Alisson and Virgil van Dijk. But the wheels were already in motion for the transfer of the Dutchman. It may be more accurate to say that Coutinho paid for Fabinho, giving Liverpool some £100m to invest elsewhere while allowing Klopp to reshape a midfield with more steel and less silk.

They are opposites, constructive and destructive presences, the flair player and the foundation of much of Liverpool’s success. Coutinho was the Pete Best of Klopp’s Liverpool, leaving just before a group from Merseyside became successful. He won nothing at Anfield. Fabinho has won virtually everything, missing only the FA Cup. He could have the medal on Saturday, but probably not the memories of playing at Wembley. The broader concern will be that he may miss out on a date with Real Madrid two weeks later. “He has a good feeling and that gives me a better feeling,” said Klopp. But his expression told another tale. He had rested others but hindsight suggested he should have given Fabinho the night off. “If you ask me now, I would say ‘leave Fabinho out’ but he was completely fine before the game,” Klopp added.

Liverpool proved capable of winning without him, but not without alarms. There was a greater sense of jeopardy, a greater need for Van Dijk to be imperious. This was a throwback to the pre-Fabinho Liverpool. They had to live on their nerves. If the same was partly true in a shaky start, Danny Ings had four chances alone in a game then shorn of Fabinho. If none directly reflect a defensive midfielder’s influence, that is because he specialises in averting drama, in preventing moves becoming chances. Klopp has nicknamed him “Dyson” for his capacity to hoover things up. As Jordan Henderson, who is likely to assume his duties at the base of the midfield, said a couple of months ago: “He sniffs danger and stops counterattacks and makes it easy for protection.”

Henderson can be a galvanising force as the No. 6 but maybe even he does not quite possess that sixth sense. Klopp had sought to use Liverpool’s present to neutralise their past, getting Fabinho to almost man-mark Coutinho. He is the specialist nullifier. He has also, as results this season suggest, come to be seen as the key to getting the best from Thiago, even if the latter produced his best Fabinho impression to turn the game, winning the ball in the build-up to Sadio Mane’s decider.

Liverpool proved capable of winning without Fabinho – but not without alarms

Liverpool overcame their history, in the shape of Steven Gerrard, Coutinho and Ings. They may be revisiting another part of it in unfortunate fashion. Klopp has objected to questions about his strongest ever squad by suggesting they amount to tempting fate. He often cites the importance of luck, as though unable to forget the times it deserted him.

Liverpool’s last game before Fabinho arrived was a case in point. If Mohamed Salah’s Sergio Ramos-inflicted shoulder problem was their most famous injury in or before the 2018 Champions League final, it was not the only one. A returning and very rusty Adam Lallana was pressed into service as Salah’s replacement. A semi-fit Emre Can made his first appearance for two months as a late substitute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had hit the best form of his career, was sidelined after going off in the semi-final. They ran out of players in peak condition.

Fast forward four years and it looked as though a reunion with Real would feature all of Liverpool’s pivotal players. Then one departed in disappointment. The last European Cup winners Fabinho faces this season might not be Real, but Villa.

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