The Brazilian is believed by many to be on his way out of the Merseyside club, and featured sparingly throughout pre-season.
Nevertheless, Rodgers opted for the midfielder, who replaced Emre Can at half time against Borussia Dortmund the week before.
This was a tactical risk that didn’t quite pay off, with Lucas fairly ineffective throughout; poised at 1-1 on his departure, the Reds eventually won the tie after changing to two up front.
Including the 27-year-old former stalwart was a surprise move by Rodgers, one which was likely weighed up precisely, however this tactical decision proved to be a rare mistake by the Liverpool manager.
Brendan Rodgers’ Tactics
The criticism of tactical inadequacy is not one which could land at the feet of Rodgers; throughout his tenure as Liverpool manager the Ulsterman has proved himself one of the Premier League’s most malleable, intelligent tacticians.
In the past few seasons the Reds have utilised 5-3-2, 4-3-3 and 4-1-2-1-2 formations, amongst others, each to veritable degrees of success.
Against Southampton, Rodgers opted for the same formation as the final pre-season game against Dortmund: a 4-2-3-1 formation.
— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) August 17, 2014
In order to most adeptly utilise the plethora of attacking midfield options now available to him, the 4-2-3-1 allows Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson the advanced positions they so thrive in.
In order to balance this attacking thrust, a two-strong midfield base is deployed.
Steven Gerrard is now the de facto deep-lying midfielder in this Liverpool squad, and throughout this season it is likely that—so long as the 4-2-3-1 prevails—the Englishman will be paired with one of several options.
Alongside Gerrard, Lucas formed the base of the midfield against Southampton, tasked with breaking up play and moving possession along.
Unfortunately the Brazilian proved wholly ineffective at Anfield.
Glen Johnson and Lucas Leiva didn't win a single tackle between them for Liverpool against Southampton today. #LFC
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 17, 2014
The fact that the 27-year-old failed to make a single tackle throughout his 63 minutes on the pitch is alarming, given the role occupied.
This was imperative given the dominance the Saints had in the central roles, with Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin impressive as Ronald Koeman’s respective midfield pivot.
Furthermore, James Ward-Prowse was provided the luxury of an unchallenged midfield battle consistently, and the delivery the young Englishman possesses proved devastating.
— talkSAINTS ??????? (@talkSAINTS) August 17, 2014
Hauled off just beyond the hour mark, it seemed a bizarre tactical decision to start Lucas in the midfield.
Furthermore, Lucas’ inclusion in the starting line-up on Sunday was a huge surprise given the quality and depth of midfield options on the substitutes’ bench.
Namely, these options were new signing Emre Can and Welsh midfielder Joe Allen.
The former was employed generously during pre-season, and impressed thoroughly; in fact, Can was one of Liverpool’s most consistent performers on their tour of the USA.
It is understandable, however, why Rodgers opted to sideline the 20-year-old, given the way in which he struggled to get to grips with the frenetic pace with which the Reds played against Dortmund.
Can will become an integral figure under Rodgers, but will be slowly introduced.
Joe Allen has made a difference for Liverpool, darting forward with the ball and passing more constructively than Lucas.
— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) August 17, 2014
The stand-out replacement for an ailing Lucas at this juncture is Allen, who contributed hugely in turning the game around against Southampton.
Introducing Allen at Anfield was a canny move by Rodgers, but one which should have been in place from the first whistle.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
This is, overall, the underlining of a disappointing downturn in fortunes for the Brazilian, who once rose from pariah to key figure at Anfield.
The descent is remarkable, and it is arguably not the midfielder’s doing.
Firstly, it is clear that this poor form and quality began following a series of serious injury lay-offs; an anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2011 proving the initial nail in the coffin.
A shout for http://t.co/WZL6uK7a2L A look at Lucas' tackling, interception & foul stats over the last 6 years. Noticeable change post ACL.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) August 19, 2014
Reds statistical analysis blog Bass Tuned to Red highlights the regularity with which Lucas is has been dribbled past, 1.9 times on average per 90 minutes, and the regularity with which the midfielder commits fouls, a tackles to fouls rate of 2.13, since this injury.
It is clear that Lucas has lost more than a yard of pace, and this is hugely detrimental.
Furthermore, Rodgers’ decision to convert Gerrard into a regista role, deployed in the traditional defensive midfield position, has thwarted Lucas’ first-team prospects.
Lucas’ performance against Southampton outlined why the pair can no longer be deployed in tandem—a lack of mobility between the Brazilian and Gerrard depletes the overall effect of Rodgers’ fast-moving system.
As Liverpool captain, and still a hugely important player, Gerrard will endure.
The same cannot be said of the unfortunate Lucas, and this failure in the Reds’ Premier League opener should alert Rodgers to a rare tactical mistake.
Did Brendan Rodgers make a mistake by selecting Lucas Leiva? Let us know in the comments below.