Listen, it’s not the hottest take you’ll read this season, but didn’t Liverpool look so much better when they had defenders playing in defence and their first choice defensive midfielder playing in defensive midfield?
The Reds ended a run of two straight defeats and two games without a goal to book their place in the Champions League quarter finals with a 2-0 victory over RB Leipzig on Wednesday evening.
After a torrid run of Premier League form, the Reds looked sharp, fluid, dynamic and exciting going forward as they eased past their Bundesliga opponents – and they could have been home and dry by half time.
Key to Liverpool’s impressive display was Fabinho. The Brazilian, who has spent much of the season deputising at centre half following the Reds’ spate of defensive injuries, was given a start in his natural defensive midfield role for the first time since October’s Merseyside derby, and Jurgen Klopp’s side looked all the better for it.
Fabinho shielded the back four effectively, broke up play and crunched into tackles, and his assured defensive presence appeared to free up Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara ahead of him in Liverpool’s midfield three.
The increased freedom and fluidity that the pair seemed to be playing with was evident from the off, with Thiago racing through on goal in the opening exchanges, and Wijnaldum picking passes to carve out opportunities for both his midfield partner and Sadio Mane.
Allowing Fabinho to move further up the pitch was possible thanks to the trust Jurgen Klopp put in the young central defensive partnership of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak. The pair looked robust and totally at ease with the occasion, Phillips throwing his head onto absolutely everything and anything that came within a 20m radius of his fetching black headband.
The strong performance from the duo, plus the appearance of Ben Davies on the Liverpool bench, will give hope that Fabinho will be able to be utilised in midfield more frequently as the season concludes.
Liverpool created opening after opening in the first half, and their wastefulness could have been a cause for concern given they have drawn blanks in three of their last four outings. However, the important thing was Jurgen Klopp’s side were creating chances – the five first half shots that they had on target was more than they had mustered across the full 90 minutes in each of their recent Premier League defeats to Fulham, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester, Manchester City and Brighton.
It looked as if the Reds could have had a touch of the Brightons about them as for all their good football they saw chance after chance go begging, but Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane applied the finishing touches to a pair of slick Liverpool moves to ensure their ultimately comfortable progression into the Champions League last eight.