AMSTERDAM • It is not ideal, but with Virgil van Dijk out for the long term, Liverpool have only two recognised senior centre-backs at the moment, so Fabinho will have to fill in at the back until the January transfer window opens.
It is, however, a position the Brazil midfielder is familiar with, having played there on numerous occasions the past two seasons and as recently as the Reds’ 2-0 Premier League win at Chelsea last month.
Jurgen Klopp again pressed Fabinho into action as an emergency centre-back in the absence of van Dijk and Joel Matip on Wednesday, and the Liverpool manager was not surprised at how comfortable the 27-year-old looked alongside Joe Gomez.
Fabinho coped with everything Ajax could throw at him, making a superb clearance off the line before half-time to deny Dusan Tadic and helping Liverpool to a 1-0 Champions League Group D opening victory.
“Was there pressure on the situation? Yes, it’s clear for the two in the back, 100 per cent… Fabinho can play the position, he likes playing it,” Klopp, whose side were indebted to an own goal by Nicolas Tagliafico, told reporters.
“I’m not surprised he plays well in the position, otherwise we would have thought about a different solution, even when that would have been properly tricky. I’m really pleased for him… it gave him confidence, for sure helped us.
“If I would have asked him to play right-back, I don’t think he’d enjoy it as much as he’s enjoying centre-half. In our situation, we have to keep the boys fit and then they can, of course, help us a lot.”
Former Reds striker Michael Owen agreed, telling BT Sport that he had no doubts over whether Fabinho will be able to hold the fort.
“All the questions have been about van Dijk and (goalkeeper) Alisson being out,” he said.
“Fabinho’s a defensive midfielder, and used to seeing things and sniffing out danger. He was the catalyst in taking the defensive line deeper.”
On keeping a clean sheet for just the third time this season, Klopp added: “It was not perfect but they fought brilliantly. We did not take our chances, which was a shame, and Ajax had a big one which hit the post.
“When you’re 1-0 up, these things can happen. But overall, I’m happy with the game. It was not sunshine football but we wanted three points and we got it.”
Klopp also decided not to risk any further injuries – midfielder Thiago Alcantara was also out – and substituted his attacking trident of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino with an hour gone at a sodden Amsterdam Arena.
“I think both teams can play better football, it was pretty wild at moments,” the German told BT Sport.
“The pitch was tricky, deep, muddy a little bit, both teams looked exhausted pretty early.
“Three days ago, it looked completely different in training too but it was the same for Ajax.”
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS