Nothing about Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Arsenal this Saturday suggested that their central defensive pairing is weakened at all & this is the perfect boost for Liverpool heading into an important Champions League tie. It will take an impressive effort to beat the Merseysiders who looked back to their scintillating best.
Despite the form of this pairing, the simple truth is that Ozan Kabak and Natt Phillips at their absolute best are not of the same caliber as the world-class players who surrounded them or even Virgil, Matip & Gomez alike. Aside from Martin Odegaard in particular who was always eager to press high and increase intensity whenever the ball went to the Center-backs, Arsenal looked flat & were taken to the sword, with the gap in quality of the two sides becoming more evident.
Fabinho and Thiago: A Match Made in Heaven
The issue Arsenal ran into and Real Madrid may yet is that when they’re protected by a midfield finally deploying players in their ideal positions and a front three that playing with verve and a more usual display from a full-back duo famed for its uniqueness, Liverpool can rest assured that they do not have their most ideal situation. All they have to do when they come under pressure is play the ball to Fabinho and Jurgen Klopp’s side can build again from there, with Thiago looking back to his ultimate best alongside Liverpool’s number 6.
It is hard to overstate the value of having him back at the base of midfield. Having to play the Brazilian as a defender for almost half the season was clearly an option Klopp knew he would have no choice but to consider when he let Dejan Lovren go to Zenit St Petersburg without finding a suitable replacement. With major injuries and no senior defenders available, it even felt like the shrewd option was to push Fabinho back rather than lean too heavily on an inexperienced youth team player, particularly as he did do very well there for the majority of the season producing some stellar performances and showcasing his utility traits.
Finally though, for the first time since October, he played as a defensive midfielder in Liverpool’s 2-0 Champions League win in the last 16 over RB Leipzig.
A throwback to the first play that caught my eyes – I noticed his tall presence and the impact of it on Liverpool’s system as compared to every other game before this when he wasn’t present in midfield. The difference? Immense. A lot of the German team’s attacks were killed before they could even start and this gave the champions the opportunity to sustain their attacks and build better.
With the recent signing of Ozan Kabak & the addition of championship defender Ben Davis & the improvement of performances of Nat Phillips and his newfound consistency, Jurgen Klopp felt comfortable with restoring Fabinho to his role in midfield alongside Thiago and the results were nothing short of amazing.
Anchoring from the number six slot which Thiago usually occupies, he produced a monster performance closing up space for the opposition and suffocating them, & allowed Thiago in particular, to play further forward and influence the game higher up the pitch.
The balance of the team was miles better with the number 3 back in the midfield. The defense was protected better and this benefited the front three because Leipzig were unable to play through the press and it meant that wave after wave of attack was battering their defense. Salah and mane bags goals on the day, after having a terrible goalless run by their standards.
The Brazilian’s excellent performance against Arsenal last night was further proved in the stats. In total, he made a crazy 12 ball recoveries which happened to be the most in the game, three tackles that were successful, and won four of his duels. He also made a headed clearance, a massive trait or attribute to have for a defensive midfielder, especially when most teams in the league will try to capitalize and play long balls.
Thiago was then free to showcase his talent and effectiveness on & off the ball. They cut off space & pressed players on the ball with intensity and aggression. They looked like a team again with all the little puzzle pieces falling back into their original places & the picture had begun to reform.
Thiago’s stats were also impressive as he also made eight ball recoveries & 6 successful tackles and won or made seven duels/interceptions. A criticism of the 29-year-old has been his habit of diving into tackles recklessly and committing fouls unnecessarily, but with the midfield solidified by Fabinho’s presence, none of this was there to witness anymore. Instead, while playing in a more advanced area, Thiago was fantastic.
On the ball, the former FC Bayern playmaker was threading passes and dictating the game in a more controlled way.
When question about playing alongside Fabinho, Thiago said:
“Fabinho is a great player. He gives us a lot of confidence. It’s awesome to play alongside him. it meant I could move forward and play with the strikers more. I like it as it means you’re nearer the goal to create chances.”
Looking forward, the two Brazilians (Thiago formerly of Brazil) will look to solidify their partnership and try to be the base of LFC’s midfield. After winning four consecutive away games in yet another twist in a crazy season, the two players have shown a promising synergy partnership forming.
The result leaves Liverpool 5th just two points off top four, dominating an Arsenal side missing a number of their own key players to secure victory courtesy of a brace from Jota on either side of a Mohamed Salah strike, with Chelsea no longer having games in hand. It is amazing to think two weeks ago Liverpool had been written off Uefa Champions League qualification, & their best chance was to win the competition itself to secure qualification.
Now, with players returning at the end of the season, can Liverpool save their year and secure a top-four finish? If they are able to keep their players fit, perhaps.
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