Is the form of this 28 year old vital for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool?
Lucas Leiva’s career at Liverpool Football Club can be summarised by the contrasting opinions of fans that have surrounded his eight year spell on Merseyside. Many fans find Lucas to be frustratingly inconsistent and unable to conform to the standards expected of a defensive midfielder in the Premier League. This is contrasted to those who find his brashness and solidity in the middle of the park pleasing and believe he is a reliable player. Then you get those who are woefully un-opinionated and go with whatever they hear.
Proof that Lucas is a reliable player in spite of his torturous injury history is that he has been at Liverpool for eight years and has served under five managers including the latest arrival, Jürgen Klopp. To have been deemed acceptable by so many coaches would surely suggest he has quality to his game. You could even say that he has survived five different managers. When a new boss arrives, he comes in with his blueprint and idea of what needs to happen. It is a testament to Lucas’ quality that all have appreciated what he brought to the team.
Lucas; who won Liverpool’s player of the year in 2011, has become absolutely pivotal in Klopp’s slowly progressing side. Ever cast as a one-dimensional defensive midfielder set to sit in front of the back, Lucas has been released of all shackles and chains with the arrival of Liverpool’s new German boss. Given the design of Klopp’s pressing system. all the players on the field need to be mobile. Naturally, this would usually mean that the Brazilian midfielder would be at a disadvantage to players like Emre Can and the injured Jordan Henderson. However, Klopp has assigned Lucas to a more aggressive defensive role such that he doesn’t necessarily need to release the ball straight away to a more a creative player such as Philippe Coutinho. This has resulted in Liverpool’s number 21 taking shots at a greater frequency than ever before.
When Klopp took the reins at Anfield, the overwhelming wave of optimism was in part due to the charismatic German’s pedigree as well as his knack for getting the best out if his players. Liverpool fans knew to expect this after seeing Klopp work his magic at Borussia Dortmund with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mario Götze. While BVB’s former manager has only been on Merseyside for a month, he has been able to coax the sort of form into Lucas that was prompting many to say he was world-class before he suffered his fateful knee-injury at Stamford Bridge in 2011.
The Lucas that has been on view of late has been refreshing and dominant to the point that those suggesting he is far behind the rest of the top defensive midfielders in the league are woefully incorrect. He has averaged 3.9 tackles per game; the most out of any holding midfielder, with the next highest being the much-hyped Nemanja Matic at 2.7 tackles per game. It may shock many to realize how Lucas comes ahead in this category.
The Premier League boasts a wealth of quality defensive midfielders and to say that at present, Lucas Leiva is the top of the crop wouldn’t be unjustified. In no small part, this is due to the increased responsibility that he has assumed under Jurgen Klopp. The Brazilian has had to take on a more creative role with his passing and amongst the holding midfielders, is sitting second only to Manchester City’s incredibly underrated Fernandinho.
Playing against Chelsea Football Club has always seemed to be somewhat of an occasion for Lucas ever since his career was nearly ended by a seemingly innocuous clash with Juan Mata in 2011 at the Bridge. 31st October 2015 was no different, although this time he made the headlines after being the centre of controversy. In all fairness, he should have received his marching orders that day for a second yellow after another bookable offence. However, the media noise that surrounded the referee’s decision not to send the midfielder for an early bath resulted in casting a shadow over what was another very important and aggressive performance in midfield for Jurgen Klopp. Had he received that yellow card, it would have been his fifth of the season.
Jurgen Klopp is the first manager in Liverpool’s history since Bob Paisley to go undefeated in his first five games with the German unable to equal the record set by The Reds’ legendary boss after tasting defeat for the first time against Crystal Palace. Crucial to Klopp’s early statement of intent has been Lucas’ form and dominance in midfield. Even more integral will be the continuation of this form and staying fit amongst crippling injuries to key players like Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho. Amidst all this negativity, the optimism that Jurgen Klopp has brought ensures that fans remain optimistic for the remainder of the season.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Dean Jones
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