Neil Humphreys: Fabinho solves Liverpool's centre-back conundrum
Liverpool midfielder shows he can fill in for injured van Dijk with composed display in win over Ajax
Take off the black armbands. Delete the mawkish obituaries for a man who hasn't died. No more vigils for Virgil van Dijk.
The Reds are going to be all right. Fabinho has arrived. And what an arrival it was, too.
Centre-backs rarely feature in highlights packages. Tidy interceptions and a bit of blocking are not usually featured in bombastic montages.
But Fabinho threw that rule book out of the window when he scooped the ball off the line with a balletic overhead kick.
Liverpool would've happily settled for less in their scrappy 1-0 win over Ajax Amsterdam in their Champions League Group D opener yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Considering they shipped nine goals in their last two games, any defensive effort that wasn't catastrophically awful would've sufficed.
A clean sheet and a terrific performance from a midfielder masquerading as a centre-back belonged in the realms of fantasy.
But Fabinho achieved both and brought a little sanity back to Liverpool. He could fill in for van Dijk for the foreseeable future, which is welcome news to those a little exhausted by this week's soap opera.
Anfield has always loved a bit of melodrama, washed down with a splash of martyrdom. But the hand-wringing hysteria surrounding van Dijk's injury was getting out of hand.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford's foul on the Dutchman was horrendous but, as the week progressed, it was hard not to conclude that Liverpool were the first side to ever lose a key player to a grotesque tackle.
Luckily, Fabinho kept his head while others were losing theirs, marshalling Liverpool's patched-up back four and putting an end to the hashtags, odes and eulogies to a colleague who is still with us.
Like James Bond, van Dijk will return. We're just not sure when. In the meantime, Fabinho can comfortably man the fort.
His overhead clearance caught the eye, but his statistics will catch the attention of his manager Juergen Klopp.
Nine other clearances accompanied the acrobatics over 90 minutes. He also managed four tackles, four interceptions and won 80 per cent of his duels.
More significantly, he settled nerves.
CONFIDENCE AND STATURE
After a shaky start alongside Joe Gomez - the pair had never started a match together in these positions before - Fabinho grew in both confidence and stature.
In his post-match interview, he acknowledged the need to communicate and organise his defence, and conceded that van Dijk's voice is missed just as much as his athletic displays.
But the unflappable Fabinho led through example, calming those around him.
As a consequence, Gomez ended up with 11 ball recoveries and 10 tackles. He also won 85.7 per cent of his battles.
More curiously, the 23-year-old was happy to play Robin to Fabinho's Batman, which was a remarkable compliment.
The 26-year-old Brazilian might be the elder partner, but Gomez was playing in his natural position. And yet he deferred to the utility man, underlining Fabinho's quiet authority.
No wonder Klopp, who was uncharacteristically grouchy in pre-match interviews, was more cheery at the final whistle.
Fabinho has arguably solved both a personnel and PR problem. One is real and the other imagined, but the Brazilian has solved them nonetheless.
With van Dijk and Joel Matip absent, Gomez remains the only first-choice centre-back. At 19, Rhys Williams' potential has been noted at the Melwood training ground, but he's hardly the finished article.
In the meantime, Fabinho fixes a hole.
But the idea that Klopp bungled in pre-season, failing to sign a centre-back as adequate cover for van Dijk and Matip, feels a little over the top.
Liverpool have three accomplished centre-backs and excellent, reliable cover in Fabinho.
Clubs from Manchester to Munich - and especially Madrid - would happily accept such an embarrassment of riches.
Losing two key defenders at the same time was dumb luck (and Matip should return shortly, in any case). Liverpool will get by.
What Fabinho really offers is stability, a quality in short supply in recent weeks. He's a cool head in a crisis of empty stadiums, fixture congestion and a virus that is tightening its grip on the vulnerable souls of Merseyside.
He is, in essence, a good news story in a week without much to shout about around Liverpool.
Normal service can now resume after the van Dijk histrionics. The king is not dead. But long live Fabinho anyway.