Jurgen Klopp’s initial fears have proven correct and Liverpool are set to lose Fabinho for six to eight weeks.
Fabinho has been one of Liverpool’s standout performers this season, and so there was an audible groan at Anfield when he was taken off with an ankle injury on Wednesday.
The Merseysiders lost the in-form Brazilian in the 19th minute of their Champions League clash with Napoli. A victory would have seen Liverpool progress into the knockout stages in their quest to retain their European crown. Instead, they failed to see off Carlo Ancelotti’s battling visitors.
Perhaps more worrying than the result is that Fainho looks set for a spell on the sidelines. Liverpool are still waiting to discover the full extent of the injury, but their manager does not sound optimistic.
“I don’t want to say what I expect,” said Klopp in the immediate aftermath of the result. In Friday’s press conference, Klopp had enough information to shed light on those fears.
“Losing a player of the quality of Fabinho is big. Really bad,” the German, 52, said.
“It is bad news. Timeframe – we are not sure 100% but looks pretty sure he will not be involved in Christmas fixtures.
“We have to replace him and we can replace him. Now it’s important that he does the right things and is back as soon as possible. Until then, we have to find solutions. We are not the only team with injured players and that’s what we have to deal with, and we will.”
Liverpool face an extremely busy December as a result of their participation in the Carabao Cup and Club World Cup. With that in mind, Fabinho’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
But how worried should Liverpool be? Is Fabinho really the most vital cog in the machine? Or does Klopp have a fool-proof plan to cope without him?
Fabinho has been Liverpool’s guiding light this season. “That’s why I called him ‘the lighthouse’ – he guides us,” said assistant coach Pepijn Lijnders.
That label is earned. Sitting centrally at the base of Klopp’s midfield, Fabinho has made more interceptions (16) than any other Liverpool midfielder in the Premier League this season, and more tackles (30) than anyone in the entire squad.
What’s more, the Brazilian has created 13 chances in the league, which again is more than any of his midfield teammates. A combination of off-the-ball work rate and on-the-ball technical ability has made him a guaranteed starter this term.
Add into the equation his brilliant goal against Manchester City and there’s an argument to be made he has been Liverpool’s most important player this season, as well as arguably the best holding midfielder in Europe.
Busy schedule is an understatement
Liverpool’s final match of November is against Brighton on Saturday. They will then play a total of nine games in December, starting with a potential banana skin in the Merseyside derby.
Klopp’s men also face tricky away trips to Leicester City and Red Bull Salzburg in the Premier League and Champions League respectively. Throw in two Club World Cup fixtures plus a Carabao Cup quarter-final and it all starts to get a bit ridiculous.
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All of which is to say Liverpool have lost Fabinho at the worst possible time. In truth Klopp may have rested the 26-year-old in the competitions deemed less important, but he now has one fewer player to use in rotation with others.
Depending on the seriousness of his injury, Fabinho’s absence could stretch into January, when Liverpool play Tottenham and Manchester United. Klopp will hope he can make a speedy recovery and return in time for those fixtures.
Who fills in for Fabinho?
Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Fabinho on Wednesday night and sat in the deepest midfield spot with Jordan Henderson and James Milner either side. Whether this is how Liverpool will line up until Fabinho is back remains to be seen.
Fabinho’s role used to belong to Henderson until Klopp shifted his captain to the right of a midfield three, a position from which he is able to drive forward and put in crosses. Henderson’s deliveries were particularly frequent against Napoli as the hosts lacked Trent Alexander-Arnold’s crossing from the right, with Joe Gomez starting instead.
Adam Lallana is another option, the former Southampton captain earlier this year revealed how he has been shadowing Fabinho, and Klopp even fielded him as Liverpool’s number six against Aston Villa a few weeks ago.
Despite Fabinho’s fine displays, Liverpool have struggled to keep a clean sheet of late. The only advantage of his injury is that Klopp will be able to experiment with other systems that could make Liverpool harder to break down. Other than Henderson, Wijnaldum or Lallana filling in, though, it’s difficult to imagine what Klopp will try.
Ultimately, if a Fabinho-less Liverpool can get through December without allowing Manchester City to make up any ground in the title race, they will be hugely confident about their chances of lifting the Premier League trophy at the end of the campaign.