It is easy to forget now that Fabinho was only an occasional contributor to the Liverpool cause in the first half of last season. Unveiled soon after the Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid in May 2018, the Brazilian was expected to establish himself as a regular starter from the off given that the Reds had secured his services early in the transfer market.
That did not prove to be the case, however, with the former Monaco man forced to remain patient for opportunities. His first start did not come until late September, and even then it was only in a League Cup tie with Chelsea. Things did not go well for Fabinho, who performed poorly at Anfield as the Eden Hazard-inspired visitors secured progress to the next round.
It was another few weeks until the Brazil international tasted action in the Premier League for the first time, playing 21 minutes in the narrow 1-0 win at Huddersfield Town. Fabinho finally completed the full 90 towards the end of October, helping Liverpool to a 4-1 victory over Cardiff City at Anfield.
However, it was not really until December that he became a regular presence in Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI. The German did not want to throw the summer signing in too early, reasoning that he first needed to learn Liverpool’s system and style in training.
"I'm playing a little bit more and that's important to me because it's important to adapt on the pitch by playing matches,” Fabinho said last October. “It's a new experience for me because Klopp has a different style of work from the way I'm used to - but this is something I will learn.
"I have learned a few things from him but it is just the start. He is a coach who demands a lot from his players, not only in matches but also on a daily basis in training."
Fabinho later admitted to being frustrated by such a policy, but in the second half of the campaign Klopp’s slowly-slowly approach reaped rewards. Indeed, from the turn of the year onwards, the midfielder was among Liverpool’s standout performers as they recorded a club-record top-flight points total and won the Champions League.
Deployed as the deepest of Liverpool’s three midfielders, Fabinho played a key role in both the defensive and attacking phases of the game – and continues to do so. He also allowed Jordan Henderson to assume what has always been his more natural role, as a No.8 who is able to make forward runs into the opposition box.
“It was a case of learning, watching and getting up to speed. Watching from the side-lines as to how the team works,” Fabinho said once he had become a regular last term.
“I needed time physically to improve. The intensity of it. Being in midfield, in general, you don’t have a lot of time to think and in the Premier League that’s even less of the case.
“You just don’t have time to think. And in the first few games I think I played well but I needed to be faster. Jurgen Klopp wanted me to learn how to play in the team and what my role was and I think time was the most important thing in doing this.”
Fabinho has continued in a similar vein so far in 2019/20, proving a fine blend of midfield destroyer and deep-lying playmaker. He is an excellent progressive passer and positions himself astutely out of possession, allowing him to both protect the Reds’ centre-backs – particularly important given the attacking roles played by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson – and also set the team on the attack when he has the ball at his feet. He may not get the headlines, but Fabinho is one of the most important cogs in Klopp’s Liverpool machine.