Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders has underlined just how important the absence of Fabinho from their midfield has impacted their season.
The Brazil international was pressed into action as an emergency centre-back when Virgil Van Dijk was injured in October’s Merseyside derby.
He did not return to his preferred starting position in central midfield until the Champions League last-16 second leg against RB Leipzig on March 10 – 22 matches later.
In the two matches he has been restored, Jurgen Klopp’s side have won both and not conceded a goal, compared to the previous 17 from when they were top of the Premier League at Christmas in which they won just five, conceded 20 and kept only four clean sheets.
“We didn’t lose only our last line (due to injuries to Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip); by losing our last line we lost our midfield as well,” Lijnders told liverpoolfc.com.
“And that’s where we lost our engine, and that’s a big problem. It’s something that created doubt in many different tactical aspects.
“We always tried to find the solution, but the solution needs consistency, and that was the problem because there were always different and new problems coming and took the consistency away.
“He (Fabinho) has the capacity to make the players around him better. It’s really difficult to find players who have the talent to make the other ones flourish.”
Ljinders said the Brazil midfielder was pivotal to how they operated as he has the required skill-set which allows their more attacking players to flourish.
The assistant manager put captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in the same bracket but with the Holland midfielder destined for the exit this summer as his contract is due to expire with no sign of an extension being signed, the club will probably have to find a like-for-like replacement.
“He just always puts the team above himself. In the same package you get someone who is only concerned about making the team better, there is no space for ego,” added Lijnders on Fabinho.
“He is a real team player. Luckily we have three of them, Gini and Hendo have this characteristic as well.
“Having two midfielders like that is like the queen in the chess game. You lose the queen, who defends in offense.
“You need two who can control a game by being dominant without the ball. That’s what we are searching for.”