Fabinho is “one of the best in the world at number six”, Jurgen Klopp said after the Brazil midfielder helped Liverpool beat RB Leipzig to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
The 27-year-old has had to fill in at centre-back for large parts of this season because of injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, while also suffering from a number of fitness problems of his own.
But restored to his preferred position in the centre of the Reds midfield, he excelled in the last-16 second-leg win over Leipzig, which was secured through second-half goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
It keeps alive the club’s hopes of a second European title in three seasons at the end of a campaign where their title defence has fallen apart following a run of recent home defeats.
“The performance and the level we played was really good and necessary,” Liverpool manager Klopp said. “We did really well. Defending-wise [it] was really good. [The] front three worked well together – but missed a couple of chances in the first half.
On Fabinho, he said: “We have to see what solutions we can find for the next games – but number six is his position.
“It was our hope to keep him there for the season. He is one of the best in the world in that position, that is clear – not only defending-wise but creating as well. He is so important to us.”
For 70 minutes in Budapest’s Puskas Arena, Liverpool were extremely wasteful in front of goal, but sealed the tie when Salah cut inside and finished with a low drive shortly after Leipzig substitute Alexander Sorloth had struck the bar with a header.
Mane made absolutely sure with a neat finish from Divock Origi’s superb cross.
Klopp’s side will find out their last-eight opponents when the draw is made on Friday, 19 March.
“The only reason you play in the Champions League is to win, but we are not silly,” Klopp continued on BBC Radio 5 live.
“We wait for the draw. It will be tough whoever we get. We are [dangerous opponents] but it is nothing really. I don’t want to create headlines about our hopes.
“We didn’t have momentum in the Premier League but we have games to get that back and that would help us in the Champions League.”
Salah and Mane offer hope of salvation
The rapid, shocking decline in domestic form suffered by Klopp’s side of late means that lifting the Champions League trophy is beginning to look like their most likely route back into the competition next season.
Six home defeats on the spin have sent Liverpool tumbling down the table to eighth, seven points off fourth place.
During that run they have looked a shadow of the side that utterly dominated the English top flight in 2019-20, with much-publicised injuries and resultant shuffling of a settled side stripping it of cogency and confidence.
Wednesday’s display was a welcome step in the right direction for the Reds.
The central defence retained an unavoidable rookie feel, but in front of Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips the presence of Fabinho alongside Thiago Alcantara and stand-in captain Georginio Wijnaldum in attack gave Liverpool greater solidity, fluency and attacking threat.
That said, they could make their lives an awful lot easier by taking a few of the multitude of chances they create.
Salah, Mane and Diogo Jota all had big opportunities to put the tie to bed before half-time, but were either denied by Leipzig keeper Peter Gulacsi or missed the target altogether.
Salah was especially at fault, seeing a shot saved after breaking clear before later firing over from close range following Trent Alexander-Arnold’s neat pull-back.
They were fortunate that the German side – such prolific scorers in the Bundesliga – were equally profligate.
Hampered by the absence of the injured Angelino, Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann spent the second half sending forwards on to the pitch from the bench, including Justin Kluivert, son of former Netherlands striker Patrick, but to no avail.
The fight left them at the moment Salah’s low shot hit the back of the net, with Mane taking advantage soon after.
The duo’s return to goalscoring form was timely in the context of this game but even more so for the sake of the Reds’ season as a whole, which is still there to be salvaged.
“The result will help but we know Monday at Wolves [in the Premier League] is a different game,” Klopp added. “If we play like that tonight it will be a problem for Wolves.
“The game tonight was a summary of our season. We are good, created chances, didn’t finish them all off.”
Klopp makes it 12 out of 13 in knock-out ties
- In all European competitions under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have now progressed from 12 of their 13 two-legged knockout ties (including qualifiers), only failing in last season’s last 16 against Atletico Madrid.
- Liverpool remain unbeaten in their last 12 meetings with German opponents in all European competition (won nine, drawn three) since a 2-4 loss to Bayer Leverkusen in April 2002.
- RB Leipzig have lost back-to-back games in European competition for only the second time (also November 2018), and the first time in the Champions League.
- Liverpool won both legs of a Champions League two-legged knockout tie while also keeping a clean sheet in each leg for the first time since the 2008-09 last-16 tie against Real Madrid.
- Having won three and lost just one of their first four meetings with English sides in all competitions (two against Spurs, two against Manchester United), RB Leipzig have lost both of their last two against Liverpool.
- Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, the most of any player for all Premier League clubs.
- Since Liverpool’s Alisson made his Champions League debut in September 2017, the Brazilian has kept more clean sheets in the competition than any other goalkeeper (16).
- 26RobertsonSubstituted forTsimikasat 90′minutes
- 6Thiago AlcántaraSubstituted forKeitaat 72′minutes
- 5WijnaldumSubstituted forMilnerat 82′minutes
- 20JotaSubstituted forOrigiat 71′minutes
- 10ManéSubstituted forOxlade-Chamberlainat 90′minutes
- 46R Williams
- 76N Williams
- 44KamplSubstituted forSørlothat 45′minutes
- 25OlmoSubstituted forHaidaraat 72′minutes
- 9PoulsenSubstituted forHwang Hee-Chanat 60′minutes
- 10ForsbergSubstituted forKluivertat 60′minutes
- 11Hwang Hee-Chan
- Clément Turpin
Match ends, Liverpool 2, RB Leipzig 0.
Second Half ends, Liverpool 2, RB Leipzig 0.
Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Naby Keita (Liverpool).
Attempt missed. Konstantinos Tsimikas (Liverpool) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left following a corner.
Substitution, Liverpool. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaces Sadio Mané.
Substitution, Liverpool. Konstantinos Tsimikas replaces Andrew Robertson.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Christopher Nkunku.
Offside, Liverpool. Andrew Robertson tries a through ball, but Divock Origi is caught offside.
Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool).
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Dayot Upamecano.
Attempt blocked. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Naby Keita.
Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by James Milner (Liverpool).
Attempt missed. Divock Origi (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Naby Keita.
Substitution, Liverpool. James Milner replaces Georginio Wijnaldum.
Attempt missed. Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Christopher Nkunku.
Offside, Liverpool. Trent Alexander-Arnold tries a through ball, but Sadio Mané is caught offside.
Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.