Fabinho is talking about soaring confidence and strength in depth and what might be possible as Liverpool’s season approaches boiling point.
If there was a moment to epitomise the belief that is surging through Jurgen Klopp’s squad, Fabinho — the Brazil midfielder — provided it in the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea, with an audacious Panenka penalty in their shootout triumph.
The mood within a squad that Fabinho believes has more quality than the one which won the Champions League in 2018-19 and the Premier League in 2019-20 has never been better, but it also feels appropriate to remember where Liverpool were on this day last year.
The mood is high at Liverpool following their Carabao Cup victory against Chelsea
There was no excitement back then, only worries and frustration. Fulham, on March 7, had become the sixth consecutive team to win at Anfield. Liverpool had just slithered down to eighth and the idea they would be in the Champions League again was difficult to envisage.
So as Inter Milan try to become the first team to beat Liverpool at home since then, Fabinho appreciates the significance of the transformation in fortunes.
‘I remember the (Fulham) game,’ said Fabinho. ‘The confidence of the team was really low. The moment wasn’t good but I think the next game was Leipzig (in Budapest) and we won. After that game we started to play well and change it around.
This time last year Liverpool lost to Fulham and looked like they wouldn’t qualify for the Champions League
Liverpool now have greath strength in depth and can go on to win three more trophies
‘Since the start of this season some of the players came back from injury and some things changed as well — I didn’t play centre back any more. In general we’ve not had many injuries this season so this is good for us and we have won almost every game.
‘If you want to fight for the league you have to perform, not just at home, but at home is really important. It’s really nice to still be alive in three competitions. It’s important to win trophies, to be in the last phase of the competitions. We are Liverpool and we try to win everything we can.’
The hunger has been fuelled by a victory at Wembley that Klopp insists felt every bit as good as when they beat Tottenham in Madrid three years ago to become European champions. Fabinho was crucial to delivering the first prize of this campaign with an outstanding individual display.
What caught the eye most, though, was the way he hoodwinked Kepa Arrizabalaga, inviting Chelsea’s goalkeeper to dive to his right before he dinked the ball down the middle with the deftness of a golfer flopping a shot from the edge of the green to the hole. ‘The day before, I tried to do a Panenka,’ says Fabinho. ‘It was just me and Luis Diaz, with no keeper. I told him, “Tomorrow, if it goes to penalties, I will shoot it like this”. He didn’t believe me.
Fabinho showed his confidence with an audacious Panenka during the Carabao Cup final
‘But when I was walking to the box to take the penalty, it was in my mind to shoot a Panenka. It worked!
‘When you shoot a penalty like this, you know that if you miss, when you come back to the dressing room everyone will kill you. But it was in my mind that I would take it like this, and that I could do it. I have more confidence in the box now.’
Inter, the reigning champions of Italy, warmed up for this assignment with a 5-0 thrashing of Salernitana in Serie A on Friday but they must make history if they are to reach the quarter-finals tonight — Liverpool have never lost in Europe after winning the first leg away from home. That unblemished record spans 59 ties.
Liverpool face Inter Milan in the second leg of their last-16 clash on Tuesday in which they hold a 2-0 lead
Klopp, as is his way, warned that a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous score in football and that Liverpool will be vulnerable if they do not show the mentality that has carried them into a position where success is possible.
Listening to Fabinho talk, however, it was significant to hear his views on the talent his manager can call upon.
There was particular praise, too, for Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose form is soaring as dramatically as the team’s is as a whole.
‘He’s really important for us,’ said Fabinho. ‘It is really hard to find a right back who plays like this. He looks more like a No 8 or No 10 than a right back.
‘I hope he will continue to play at this high level because he can be one of the best right backs in history.’
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Keita; Salah, Jota, Mane.
INTER MILAN (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Vidal, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Dzeko, Martinez.