Liverpool midfielder Fabinho was something of a slow-burner following his summer arrival from Monaco but he believes arch-rivals Manchester United helped ignite his Anfield career.
The Brazil international did not start a match until the Carabao Cup defeat to Chelsea in late September and by the start of November had played just six times, four of which were short substitute appearances.
But from that point on he got a run in the team and December’s 3-1 victory over United, which ended Jose Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford, was the game which proved to be the turning point.
Since then he has performed a pivotal role as the holding midfielder in the team and put in his best display in the 4-0 Champions League semi-final, second-leg comeback against Barcelona, made even more impressive by his level of control after being booked early on.
“I knew it would be difficult and there would be times when I would be out of the team,” he said as he prepares to face Tottenham in the Champions League final in Madrid.
“But it was never in doubt that I’d made the right choice. Not every player transfers to a new club and gets straight into the team, as was my case.
“Everybody told me that’s how the coach works. New players are not automatically thrown into the first team straight away.
“In terms of adapting, there was a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work.
“The two games in particular that stood out for me was the game against Arsenal – that’s when I really understood the speed of the Premier League and the attention to detail that is required – and in terms of building my confidence, the stand-out game was against Manchester United.
“In terms of the game with Manchester United, it was probably one of the best of the season.
“I managed to get an assist in that game (his clever, chipped pass set up Sadio Mane’s opener) and I really kept up with the rhythm and pace. I think we were much superior than Manchester United.”
Coming from the more sedate Ligue 1, Fabinho accepts he struggled to get to grips with not only the ferocity of the Premier League but the sheer relentlessness of it.
But having acclimatised to the relative lack of recovery time the 25-year-old has gone on to show Liverpool’s shrewd £43million purchase just a couple of days after last year’s Champions League final was more than justified.
“I think it’s been excellent from a personal perspective,” he added.
“Collectively, as a group, I think we’ve surpassed already high expectations given the success we’ve had in the Premier League and Champions League. Overall, excellent.”
Although Fabinho had a vested interest in last year’s final against Real Madrid, knowing his move to Anfield was imminent, he did not spend any time analysing where he might be able to contribute for his new side.
“I watched it and at the time I knew I was coming here to Liverpool,” he said.
“I didn’t really think about where I’d fit into the team or my position.
“I was watching it as a fan, so I wasn’t really focusing tactically. What really captured me was the passion of the fans and I wanted Liverpool to win.”
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