Games don’t come much bigger than Manchester United at Anfield for Liverpool. The mortal enemy must not walk away with three points as they have done too many times in the past, nor can they leave having had an easy time of it.
Jose Mourinho came to Anfield on Sunday hoping to turn around his poor fortune. The now ex-Manchester United manager was hoping that he’d be able to have a performance that would turn around his season and his players’ feelings towards him. There was a stench of foreboding and uncertainty coming from the away dressing room at the weekend. Little did he know that it would be the last dressing room he’d set foot in on a matchday as manager of our great rivals.
For 20 minutes on Sunday afternoon, United could not get near Liverpool. Mourinho admitted himself in his post-match interview that his side couldn’t deal with the pace and intensity of the red wave that continuously washed over them. When Sadio Mane scored it was no more than Liverpool deserved. Jesse Lingard’s equaliser was a bolt from the blue that temporarily stunned us but it didn’t last long.
Half-time allowed us to regroup and the onslaught resumed in the second half. Xherdan Shaqiri came on and practically won the game for Liverpool. For that, he will rightly take the plaudits. I mean, when was the last time Liverpool not only had genuine quality to bring off the bench, but a genuine match winner to boot?
There was one other man on the pitch on Sunday though who has gone unnoticed when the individual pats on backs were handed out at the final whistle: and has done so since coming to the club. Alisson has been astounding and Shaqiri has been sensational, but this man has been simply fabulous.
Yet, where is the standing ovation for Fabinho? The Brazilian came to the club as the £43 million pick-me-up Liverpool needed two days after defeat in the Champions League final in May. Not only had it cheered everyone up a bit but it seemed we had snatched him from under the noses of – ironically enough – Manchester United. Since arriving, he has been doubted to the point that rumours have circulated that he was to leave the club pretty soon. It was even mooted that our recent trip to Paris doubled as Champions League fixture and business meeting over Fabinho’s availability.
Nobody counted on Jurgen Klopp’s belief in this player though. Nobody counted on Jurgen Klopp giving this player time to settle to life in a new country, in a new city, with a new team. Nobody seemed to remember Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain receiving the same write-off treatment this time last year until that coming of age display at the London Stadium against West Ham.
Then what happened after that for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? He earned – was not given – the right to be named Philippe Coutinho’s replacement, and what a stand-up job he did and all. Why did none of you think of this when writing off Fabinho this time four weeks ago? The short-sightedness and fickle nature of football fans will never cease to amaze me.
Sunday December 16 2018, Liverpool vs. Manchester United, Anfield, Barclays Premier League: this was Fabinho’s coming of age game.
This was the game that Fabinho finally announced himself as a Liverpool player. He did everything we have been looking for Jordan Henderson to do for the past four years. Not only was he strong in the tackle (the penny has finally dropped for him!), but he was clever with his positioning too, rarely having to go to ground to win the ball. The most impressive thing about Fabinho in this game though was his passing.
Everything about watching Fabinho pass the ball was a joy to behold. The technique, the weight, the vision, the range. It seemed like he could do everything and he was everywhere. Fabinho had a pass success rate of 79% but when you consider that most of those passes – I’d venture a guess at about 90% of those passes – were forward then that is an astonishing and scary statistic.
United were lucky that he only provided one assist. Imagine the threat Fabinho will pose once we have a fit and firing Oxlade-Chamberlain or an in-form Naby Keita latching onto those balls, bursting through defences and burying the ball past opposition goalkeepers. We may have a minor goal crisis at the minute, but we certainly won’t once this little tactic starts to bear fruit.
Once again, Jurgen Klopp’s excellent man management has paid off. Another piece of beautiful transfers business is beginning to pay dividends and it looks like Liverpool have another missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle filled by a fine defensive midfielder. Emre Can, Jordan Henderson: eat your heart out.
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