Wijnaldum: Fabinho a natural at centre-back

Liverpool midfielder Georgino Wijnaldum says Fabinho looks like he has played at centre-back “his whole life” as he praised his team-mate’s versatility.

Fabinho, usually a deep-lying midfielder, is filling in for Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence after he suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in Saturday’s Merseyside derby, which finished 2-2.

There were concerns about how Liverpool would cope without Van Dijk, with Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Fabinho the only senior options to cover for the Netherlands international.

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But Fabinho’s performance in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Ajax in Liverpool’s Champions League opener, which included an impressive goal-line clearance, has given Wijnaldum optimism his team-mate can fill the void.

“Fabinho does great as a centre back,” said Wijanldum after the win in Amsterdam.

“I think in the games that he’s played there we didn’t concede goals.

“And also the way how he’s playing is like he’s [been] playing there his whole life.

“It’s great to have a player who can play in different positions. He does it well in all of them he plays, so it’s a good thing for the team.”

Fabinho ‘helped’ Liverpool backline

A man-of-the-match performance from Fabinho in the absence of Van Dijk provided some encouragement as to how Liverpool may be able to cope without their defensive talisman, with Klopp adamant he would not have paired the Brazilian with Gomez had he not been comfortable he was content playing at centre-back.

Joe Gomez and Fabinho of Liverpool warm up prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield on July 11, 2020 in Liverpool, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) 0:54

Jurgen Klopp praised the performance of new centre-back pairing Joe Gomez and Fabinho against Ajax, but insists the duo will need time to fully adapt to the demands as a partnership

Klopp told his post-match press conference: “Fabinho can play in the position, he likes playing it actually. If I’d have asked him to play right-back, I don’t think he would have enjoyed it so much, but in our situation at the moment we have to keep these boys fit and they can help us a lot.

“Fabinho, I’m not surprised that he played well there or we would have thought about a different solution, even though that would have been very tricky. I’m really pleased tonight, pleased for him, it gave him confidence and helped us.

“He was good, but even he can play better! This combination with Joe and Fabinho, I don’t think they’ve played together before, maybe once.

“They need to get used to each other, to the verbal demands in that position, what you have to say to help the midfielders, so it was a good performance, but there’s a lot to improve which is good. How high or low is the last line in each moment? Counter-pressing, how do we react there, and it was absolutely good for tonight.”

Fabinho’s back-line boost for Klopp

Fabinho impressed at centre-back against Ajax in the Champions League

Image: Fabinho impressed at centre-back against Ajax in the Champions League

Sky Sports football writer Peter Smith…

Virgil van Dijk’s injury and the impact of his absence has dominated the discussion since he was clattered by Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby on Saturday. But Fabinho’s performance against Ajax was a reminder Jurgen Klopp has an assured alternative to call upon.

A defensive midfielder by trade, Fabinho pulled off a fine impression of an experienced centre-back in difficult conditions in Amsterdam, as Liverpool held out for a 1-0 win to kick off their Champions League campaign.

With another centre-back, Joel Matip, missing due to a muscle strain, Fabinho slotted in alongside Joe Gomez on Wednesday night and, while there was some nervousness around him from his defensive partner and goalkeeper Adrian, the Brazilian delivered a display which suggested he can be trusted to step up to the challenge.

Within the first couple of minutes a mix-up between Gomez and Adrian saw the goalkeeper boot the ball out of play for a throw-in off his defender – a reminder that Liverpool are without their injured No1 shot-stopper Alisson, too.

Later in the half, Gomez pinged a Nicolas Tagliafico pass straight back to the Ajax man in the build-up to a chance for the hosts. Then came the wind and rain in the second half, swirling around the Amsterdam Arena.

Through it all, Fabinho maintained his composure and confidence.

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