Sunday afternoon was a testament to the impact Lucas Leiva has had in his early Liverpool career. Before this game it was inconceivable for Rafa Benitez to pick a midfield containing three central players, none of which Xabi Alonso.
Of course the exclusion of the Spaniard has sparked the inevitable Sunday tittle-tattle. Such is the furore surrounding LFC right now, everything, like Jordan’s breasts, tends to be blown out of proportion. One exclusion was always going to spark rumours of a transfer to Catalunia or Madrid.
Instead, I ‘d like to focus on the positives. Admittedly, there have been precious few of late. But the development of our young Brazilian has been hugely impressive. At Â£6 million some may have bulked at his summer arrival. As of today, that fee looks like becoming a definite snip.
The fact is his form brought Momo Sissoko’s time on Merseyside to a premature end. Sadly, the Mali international did himself few favours this past six months. His passing was erratic, his runs wayward, while at times his facial expressions resembled a disorientated soul wondering where he actually stand.
Lucas has been the complete reverse. A case in point would most defiantly be this season’s derby. In the run-up to that fixture Kopites had witnessed very little. What we had seen was competent, but by no means worthy of replacing Steven Gerrard in a deadlocked, bloodthirsty battle. Undeterred the 20 year-old simply strolled around Goodison with the kind of swagger associated with legendary compatriots.
If it was not for the second of Manchester’s Chuckle Brother duo, Leiva would have scored that day. As it was, Dirk Kuyt reaped the glory but a benchmark had certainly been set. We had a player on our hands.
Since this time progress has been steady. Last week’s spectacular strike against Havent & Waterloovile was arguably the only shred of good in an otherwise horrendous performance. Following on from this, he put in the only decent shift at West Ham.
One of the fundamentals of any top player is composure. The aforementioned Sissoko, though popular in light of his energy and enthusiasm, possessed the touch of an octopus. Lucas is cool when in possession, distributing short but intelligent passes, few of which ever go astray. That kind of repertoire compliments the tenacity of Mascherano well.
On the face of it we were due a quality find. Djimi Traore, Anthony Le Tallec, Antonio Nunez, Gabriel Paletta, Mark Gonzalez – all hold their own place on a list of supposed ‘future stars’ to fall by the wayside. Indeed the output of our scouts was becoming farcical. In fact there are rumours that a DVD of the worst is to be put together in time for Christmas 2008.
Sadly the actual season review is now in serious danger of containing as many highlights as an Everton FA Cup Campaign. Everything we once stood for is being besmirched and it breaks my heart. Talk of takeovers is refreshing but, I fear, academic.
My own views of Mr. Hicks have been shared and I do not wish to broadcast them any further. But the fact is, a change of tact is paramount, whether that be in his style of chairmanship or the regime as a whole.
There can be absolutely no denying that trouble at the helm has filtered-through to the dressing room. Klinsmangate undermined Rafa more than people recognise. Once a coach’s position appears unsustainable, the players sense a weakening of authority, a corroding of longevity. Subsequently performances have dropped. Certain players are simply not pulling their weight or not doing so in the right direction. Others simply sit-tight and wait for whoever takes the reins. That is not the Liverpool way. Now, more than ever, it is up to the players and coaching staff, those innocent of any wrongdoing, to regroup. Between them and us, the fans, we can ride the storm. Fourth is by no means the ‘golden sky’ we ultimately crave, but for this disappointing season it must be the target.
Hopefully that nervous victory over Sunderland will mark a belated upturn in fortunes on the field.
The next two seasons, providing he remains in the hot-seat, will be intriguing as too Benitez’s management of a rare ‘gem’ fit of the description. Gerrard is undroppable, unrestable and unreplacebale. ‘Masch’ seems to be getting better with every game, his fighting spirit encapsulating the old Anfield iron spirit associated with true, and successful legends like Tommy Smith and Graeme Souness. Then there is the flair of Alonso and dare I add the attributes offered by a Danny Guthrie or even Jay Spearing.
Having now broken into the full Brazil squad, Lucas will want and eventually demand a regular starting birth. This is where rotation could actually work. So long as we replace quality for quality it is not an issue.
Whatever happens regarding that midfield cluster, the promise offered by Lucas is a glimmer of light amongst darkening clouds.