Rio Ferdinand singles out 'top operator' in Liverpool's win over Ajax

Rio Ferdinand has praised Fabinho’s performance as a stand-in centre-back for Liverpool in their 1-0 victory over Ajax in the Champions League – though says the key now will be to maintain his form.

The Brazilian was drafted in to play alongside Joe Gomez following the injury sustained by Virgil van Dijk in the Merseyside derby at the weekend – with the Dutchman not expected to play again this season – while Joel Matip also has an injury problem.

Fabinho helped his side keep a clean sheet – his fourth in five outings at centre-back – and made a superb goal-line clearance, with Ferdinand gushing about his display afterwards.

Speaking on BT Sport, the former Manchester United defender said: ‘He’s probably been the best player in each of them games [he’s played at centre-back], especially the Bayern and Chelsea games he was probably the stand-out defender on both of those occasions.

‘Listen, this guy is a top operator. He played at right-back a lot of the time when he was at Monaco as well, so he knows how to defend.

‘But he’s going to be judged over the course of the season not over a couple of performances – and now he’s going to have an opportunity to play there for a sustained amount of time. And he’s going to have to show it on a consistent basis.

‘First half he made two or three of them type of challenges on the edge of the box, to just really quash attacks, and he has read the game really well today. But again, it’s about him and Gomez starting to feel a partnership.’

He continued: ‘The problem he’s got is that he’s filling the boots of one of the best defenders in the world, if not the best defender in the world at the moment. So it’s huge pressure, not only for him but for Gomez as well.

‘It’s pressure [on Gomez] because he’s a natural defender, he’s going to be looked at to be expected to lead that back four now – can he do it? That’s the question that’s going to be asked.’

Returning to Fabinho’s new role in defence, Ferdinand added: ‘I think what helps him is that Liverpool are not playing that really, really crazy offside.

‘If they step back and give him that bit of time to assess and see things by taking a step back, rather than being too much on the front foot, with your momentum always going forward rather than going back and matching people stride for stride, he’s got a better chance of showing real quality in that position.’

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