Dan Holland takes a look at the importance of Lucas and how the Brazilian’s return from injury emphasises his importance on the team.
When a willowy Lucas Leiva broke into the Liverpool first team back in 2007, who would have thought 6 years later he would become such an important part of the Liverpool team.
Initially the highly regarded Brazilian found it tough to win over the majority of the Anfield faithful (myself amongst them). He appeared to me to be on the edge of games without ever really getting involved apart from an occasional interception and cautious 10 yard sideward ball. Luckily not all Liverpool fans and more importantly every manager from Rafa to Rodgers shared my opinion and have given Lucas the chance to become an integral link in our midfield.
The youngster refused to let the negative feedback and often ironic cheers from the terraces affect him. He continued to work hard on and off the field which is testament to his mental strength and confidence in his own ability. Both essential ingredients in any world class player – which I believe Lucas has now become.
The last two seasons have been punctured by injury for the 26 year old and his absence has further heightened his reputation as our midfield appeared unbalanced and rigid without his calming influence. The holding midfield role has become an essential ingredient in all successful teams, the holder of the often unfashionable position isn’t recognised on a weekly basis as a key player but when they are missing from the starting line-up or withdrawn from the field of play a colossus gap is left on the field.
Didi Hamann was another of our essential players who occupied this position and by and large went un-noticed (apart from the occasional 30 yard blockbuster) but was often solely responsible for keeping us in a game. I often refer back to the 2002 Champions League Quarter Final when in the Bayer arena we were matching a very strong Leverkusen side led by the enigmatic Michael Ballack who had been subdued by Hamann. In the 61st minute we were drawing 1-1 with the home leg still to come, for some reason Gerard Houllier replaced Didi with Vladimir Smicer and the Germans scored 3 more goals which proved the difference and we were eliminated. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if that substitution hadn’t been made…
Whilst to date I am unable to pinpoint such a dramatic impact that Lucas has had on an individual game, the stats for this season especially show how much of a positive impact he has on the teams results and the players around him. It was the 2010/2011 season when Lucas really started getting rave reviews with his ability to break up oppositions attacks with relative ease, always available for a pass from the back four giving a vital link between the defence and midfield. Simple passes ensured we kept possession in such a key area of the field; hard, perfectly timed tackling, which belied his slight frame, often in areas of the field where a badly timed tackle would result in the opposition winning a penalty or a free kick in dangerous positions.
Lucas’ reputation continued to grow throughout the 2011/12 season, when his first lengthy spell on the side lines due to injury coincided with a poor run of form in the league. This poor form confirmed the Brazilians importance to the club and how Liverpool had no-one capable of filling his boots. Enter Joe Allen. Brendan Rogers signed ‘one of his own’ when arriving from Swansea, would he play alongside Lucas, replace him or be an expensive back up?
When the new season started at The Hawthorns, Allen and Lucas lined up alongside each other giving Liverpool what looked like a very firm base in a three man midfield. Unfortunately a 3-0 reverse proved this incorrect – although, for long periods the duo did control the midfield area. The pair also lined up in the following game at Anfield against newly crowned champions Man City. Due to picking up an injury in the pre-match warm-up Lucas’ return to Anfield lasted only four minutes. His season then re-started in December in the home game against Southampton. The stats from the last two months show what an incredible player he is and that Joe Allen, as talented as he is, doesn’t influence the team as much as our number 21.
In games were Lucas has started we have won 57% of those games compared to the Welsh international’s figure of 43%. Leiva has won the same number of tackles as Joe despite having only played a third the number of minutes, this translates to a tackle success rate of 80% compared to the former Swansea man’s 65%. Obviously the importance of a high tackle success rate in that area of the field is immense. The two players share a similar passing accuracy of around 80% but it is the influence that Lucas has on our most vital player that offers the starkest of contrasts.
A certain Steven Gerrard has carried a team’s hope since his debut in 1998, yet his impact on the team at the start of this campaign was, by his own admission, a long way short of his usually exceptionally high standards. Very few would have highlighted the absence of Lucas as a reason for this lack of form as, whilst they play in the same area of the field, one doesn’t obviously appear to impact on the other.
However, recent performances from our skipper prove this to be exactly the reason for his drop in standards. Was it a trust issue? Did Stevie think he had to play a bit deeper to help the new arrival? Was it a lack of service from the defensive midfielder or indeed service in the wrong areas?
Whatever the reason, since the start of December Lucas’ return has seen our leader up his number of assists, up his number of goals and his all round play has been a lot closer to the levels which we have come to expect. Having Lucas alongside him in the ‘engine room’ with his calming influence and his simplistic approach to the game has seen Gerrard score 4 out of his 5 goals and play key passes with 6 of his 8 assists coming since that Southampton game.
With the two of them performing to these impressive standards and the possible addition of Coutinho, the midfield postion certainly looks healthy.
His first name is Lucas, and yes we ******* love him!