Are Liverpool more effective with Lucas or Gerrard in the team?

With a fortnight until Liverpool’s next fixture – at Old Trafford – Brendan Rodgers could have Lucas Leiva back from injury. Andrew Lawrence takes a look at the stats when he and/or Steven Gerrard start. Do they confirm what we’d all expect?

BALTIMORE, MD - Saturday, July 28, 2012: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and captain Steven Gerrard before a pre-season friendly match against Tottenham Hotspur at the M&T Bank Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
What does the future hold when Lucas Leiva returns to fitness? Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda

This article started as a comment on Oliver Smith’s piece asking ‘What is Wrong with our defence?’ but I thought it might be interesting to delve into the issue in more detail. In essence, let’s explore whether we can draw any observations about the impact that both Lucas and Gerrard have had on Liverpool’s Premier League results this season, by looking at the results we have had while they are on the pitch.

First let’s look at the results for Lucas:


The assumption at this stage is that when Lucas was subbed on or off it had little impact on the scoring in the game. For this reason subbed on is included in the ‘did not start’ section.

Now let’s compare that to Gerrard using the same assumption:


Obviously the assumption that the substitutions made no impact is a flawed one. The above tables don’t factor in the timings of the substitutions or the state of the game when the subs are made so we need to make some adjustments to the figures to more accurately reflect the players influence while on the pitch.

You can jump straight to the next table if you wish, but for those who like detail. The figures below have been adjusted to reflect the following games.

Everton (a): Lucas started the match but was subbed off when the score was 2-2. The final score was 3-3.

West Brom (h): In this match Gerrard was taken off due to injury and replaced by Lucas. At the time Gerrard went off Liverpool were leading 2-0. The final score was 4-1.

Spurs (a): Lucas started the match but was substituted when Liverpool were 3-0 up. After the substitution we went on to win 5-0.

Aston Villa (h): Lucas did not start the match, but when he came on to the field Liverpool were trailing 0-2. When Lucas was subbed off (injured) in the same match the score was level at 2-2.

Adjusting for these matches we can now start to get a feel for how Lucas and Gerrard may have impacted matches while on the pitch (including both starts and non-starts).


Before we discuss the results let’s look at one more comparison. The impact on results when one plays but the other doesn’t.

Fortunately, whenever Lucas hasn’t started, Gerrard has, and vice-versa so the results are fairly easy to calculate. We only need to make a few slight adjustments to the ‘did not start’ figures calculated previously.

First we need to reflect the brief period at Spurs when neither were on the pitch (Alberto replaced Lucas for the final 11 minutes, Gerrard was injured), and adjust for the effects of West Ham (h) when Lucas replaced Gerrard.

We also need to adjust for the Villa match when Lucas was brought on at half-time and two goals were scored while he was on the pitch. This figure had previously been recorded in the ‘did not start’ figure.

The adjusted figures are recorded in the table below:


For those that might be interested let’s also look at Gerrard’s last eight games, those he has played as a defensive midfielder.



JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Thursday, July 18, 2013: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and captain Steven Gerrard during a training session at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta ahead of their first match of the Preseason Tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
The results confirm what we’d expect. Less goals against with Lucas but more goals for with Gerrard. Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda.

Obviously, this analysis does not factor in the implications of home and away form, or the quality of the opposition. It does not factor in the direct role that the players may have made in relation to specific goals, both via mistakes or assists. However, it does provide us with a general flavour as to how the team performs when the two players are on the pitch.

Using the above stats, it does appear to confirm several things you’d expect, namely:

  • Liverpool concede slightly less goals per game when Lucas plays – and this figure is better if he does not play alongside Gerrard
  • Our worst defensive record occurs when Gerrard plays as a defensive midfielder
  • Liverpool score fewer goals with Lucas on the pitch
  • When Gerrard plays Liverpool are better offensively
  • Liverpool score more goals per game when Gerrard is on the pitch, and score even more when he is not partnered by Lucas
  • Our best offensive record has occurred when Gerrard has played as a defensive midfielder

The bottom line is that this analysis suggests what I suspect that many people already know: if you want Liverpool’s best defensive team on the park, play Lucas. If you want a higher scoring, but defensively more vulnerable strategy, play Gerrard.

The only caveat: you shouldn’t play them together.

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Born in the UK and raised in Australia, currently based in Melbourne, Andrew is an international Liverpool member who has been following the pool since the days of Craig Johnston.
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  • SuarezSticksIt2U_Again

    You don’t need stats to work out our defence is weaker when Gerrard plays DM, just watch any of his games in that position.

    You will notice two big issues.

    1) Gerrard’s natural instinct is to go forward and all his footballing life he has played “following the ball” and he does that now, which puts him out of position( for a DM). It’s a natural instinct that you can’t just switch off.

    Watch the Swansea game for clear reference, especially in the first half.

    Shelvey was running riot and seemed to be “an extra man” mainly because Gerrard was drawn to either flank following the ball, exposing the centre of midfield/defence. And it finally cost us as Shelvey scored on his third attempt at a “free” shot at goal if i am not mistaken.

    2)We are a 4 man attacking central midfield as he has the ability to start attacks from deep.

    Lucas is soooo much better at protecting the area in front of the defence, reading he play & intercepting that if you compared him to Gerrard in this regard you would think that Gerrard has just started playing the game.

    Where Lucas lacks is what he does with the ball once he has it. He can’t pass a ball more than 5m with any accuracy let alone a pass to turn defence into attack. Let’s not even compare “hollywood” balls.
    He gives virtually nothing going forward, as was clear evidence when he was put further up the pitch with Gerrard in DM. He looked like a headless chicken with absolutely no idea where he was or what positions to run into which was surprising as eh brought to the club as an attacking midfielder.

    We have an attacking advantage with Gerrard especially with the potent strike force we have & are playing 2 out & out strikers but in tight games Lucas would give us the defensive advantage.

    If only Lucas could pass a ball half as good as Gerrard.

    • JonnyS

      actually, against Swansea Hendo was at fault for the goal. He had taken the right back position in the box as Flanno was over on the left and coming back, however hendo was just marking space.

      Had he stepped up 3 yards he would have covered Shelvey who wouldn’t have got the ball or been able to make the shot un challenged, but he’s not that smart.

      Alternatively Flanno should have gone back to the covering midfielder’s position as Hendo was in his FB position but he didn’t work that out quickly enough.

      Gerrard was on the right side of the pen box addressing the threat from the player holding the ball. Not his fault.

      Lucas will be key in the CL games.

  • JonnyS

    Gerrard is NOT a DM, he’s a play maker sitting back.
    When Lucas is alongside him it doesn’t seem to work. Lucas gets over loaded and there’s a lack of forward thrust.

    It tends to work better so long as there’s separation between where the two play.

    However in the CL we’re going to need Lucas’ defensive nous as Stevie will be exposed badly in that comp.

  • allaboutanfield

    I feel that Gerrard’s talents are more suited as an attacking midfielder rather than as a holding midfielder. What Liverpool should do is try to get another defensive midfielder to compete with Lucas for the long run.

  • blud red

    good analysis but not one i think BR is losing sleep over because he will use both players as often as he can to suit the situation.

    i feel relatively confident that if you play chelsea at anfield, you don’t necessarily play lucas and go defensive. a good coach may like the idea that his team is set up offensively to send a signal of intent to the opposition.

    i’m not sure if BR knows how to field a defensive side. his motive is to play attacking football. haven’t seen much else from him since he began at LFC. whichever side lucas plays in i believe it will be an attacking formation.

    LFC are in a better position now because of players returning from injury and thus presenting more options. i think the above headline is too dramatic, speculating whether lucas and gerrard should play in the same midfield is redundant because they will as soon as the situation demands.

  • joe mckeown

    Good analysis. Seems when attack is is needed Gerrard is the best option. Lucas for defense. But until we have the back 4 settled, meaning the CB pairings, we will still have problems against the stronger teams. A settled pairing would also give Mignolet a better command of the area.If all else fails, just score more than they do.