This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Liverpool will play Crystal Palace this weekend as they look to consolidate their place at the top of the Premier League table. Fabinho’s midfield battle with Luka Milivojevic could set the tone for the match.
The Reds have started the season in fantastic fashion. They currently lead the way in England’s top tier, and are eight points clear of Leicester City and Chelsea. Manchester City, the current back-to-back champions, are a further point behind in fourth.
They will travel to Selhurst Park to face Palace this weekend. The Eagles started the season well, losing just two of their first eight league games, but they have since dropped down to 12th in the table. Still, the visit of Jurgen Klopp and co should galvanise them, and one midfield battle could play a big part in the final result.
So far this season, Roy Hodgson has regularly used five midfielders in the middle of the park, whether that be in a flat 4-5-1 formation or as part of a 4-1-4-1 set-up. Milivojevic has played all but one match, and he has been one of the best players for his team. His 6.85 WhoScored rating places him at number four amongst his teammates.
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Liverpool’s Fabinho has also been in impressive form for the Reds this season. He scored a thunderbolt against City in his last match before the international break, and he has made the defensive midfield position his own, playing 17 matches there already. Although he has impressed defensively – he has 2.4 tackles per match in the league, which is more than any of his teammates – he has also had a role to play going forward.
His 59.5 passes per match is the most amongst his teammates in central midfield, while his 4.4 long balls per match has only been beaten by Adrian and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Once again, in terms of key passes, he leads the way amongst the midfielders, with 1.2 per match. In that position, he has become the team’s metronome.
It will be the Palace 28-year-old’s job to make sure the Brazil international does not exert too much influence on the game, whilst also trying to provide at the other end. He has impressed defensively so far, averaging 2.4 tackles per game, whilst he also has 2.2 interceptions. As part of that midfield five, he has helped contribute to a sturdy Palace defensive set-up that has conceded less than 12 other teams in the top division, including Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham.
If he is able to prevail over Fabinho in their duels, he will then look to move the ball on quickly to the likes of Wilfried Zaha. With a team-leading 1.4 key passes per match, the Serbia international has the ability to cause Liverpool problems.
Fabinho has been imposing this term, and there is no reason why he can’t continue that on Saturday. But he must be wary of £18m-valued Milivojevic and if he allows himself to be overpowered, that could work to Palace’s advantage.