Richard Buxton: Fabinho could be the spark that Tite needs
Brazil's Liverpool midfielder has been like kryptonite to Barca's superman Messi
At every turn, Anfield continues to haunt Lionel Messi's hopes and dreams. Over six months on from Barcelona's Champions League semi-final capitulation, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner cannot escape an enduring nightmare that starts and ends with Liverpool.
By his own admission, Juergen Klopp's side "tainted" Messi's first season as the Spanish champions' de-facto captain when they completed an improbable four-goal comeback in May.
And it didn't end there.
The Reds remain kryptonite for Argentina's Superman. In the Copa America, too, they denied him as Roberto Firmino helped Brazil to a semi-final win over their arch-rivals, while Alisson compounded Messi's humiliation with a second clean sheet against him in as many months.
Barca's recovery from their Anfield ordeal has already seen them drop 11 points from their opening 12 games in La Liga this season, edging out Real Madrid at the summit only on goal difference, and come up short in half of their first four Champions League group fixtures.
For Messi, however, the scars run far deeper and will be fresh in the mind as his country prepare to take on Brazil again in their latest friendly tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
No player has managed to frustrate the 32-year-old more in recent months than Fabinho.
Liverpool's talismanic midfielder had Messi's number across both legs in the last four of Europe's elite club competition, to the point that his opposite number's only response was to swing a weak punch at his head as the pair competed for an aerial duel at the Nou Camp.
Matters only worsened when Fabinho schooled the Barca skipper on home soil, despite walking a disciplinary tightrope for large parts of the game after picking up an early booking.
But the Selecao are yet to hold him in the same esteem as Klopp, who recently half-joked that the ex-Monaco enforcer spends international breaks "somewhere but he is not playing".
Tite's sparing use of Fabinho may have allayed the English Premier League leaders' concerns about their midfielder suffering potential burnout in an already gruelling season, yet it does not help his own case, with Messi's teammate Arthur and Real's Casemiro becoming preferred starters.
In their four games since winning the Copa America, Brazil have drawn three and lost one, with successive stalemates coming in Singapore last month against Senegal and Nigeria, as their coach alternated between his preferred 4-3-3 approach and a bank of two in midfield.
Positioning, as much as personnel, has been Tite's biggest conundrum in properly utilising Fabinho. Last year's recall came as an auxiliary right-back at a time when the 26-year-old was still several months away from becoming a regular starter in Liverpool's line-up.
Questions abounded on Merseyside as to when his time would come and why it had not yet.
Since then, his importance at club level has grown exponentially, with none of his past 31 starts in the EPL ending in defeat for Liverpool, while Klopp's assistant Pep Lijnders enthusiastically likened him to "a lighthouse" that controls their desire for "organised chaos".
If Tite's warning that his squad "can give more" than what they showed in Singapore is to be taken at face value, he should allow Fabinho to also shine the way for Brazil.
His swift adaptability to a starring role with the European champions underlines his capabilities.
Only the Selecao's stubbornness will afford Messi a reprieve from his Anfield purgatory.
Liverpool have never lost in all of Fabinho's 31 starts in the EPL