Are Liverpool crying out for a defensive midfielder?
Brendan Rodgers bases his philosophy on quick, slick passing, the ability to interchange in the final third, tactical awareness, retaining possession and pressing the opposition high up the pitch. Also with the acquisitions of Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool now have the capability to counter-attack. Having the capacity to play in a variety of ways can only be profitable for the Red men. In Rodgers, Liverpool also have a manager who is not averse to changing his methods when necessity calls so fans will have no worries with the Northern Irishman being tactically stubborn.
There is no doubt Liverpool’s ability on the ball is probably the easiest on the eye in the Premier League. Their attacking prowess and intelligence can destroy any defence on any day. However when the reds find themselves out of possession and having to defend, every Liverpool fan curls up on the couch and bites their nails in anticipation of conceding a goal. This should not be the case.
Liverpool must find the right balance between physical strength and technical competence. Pure swash-buckling strength is not required in all positions. For example, your creative attacking-midfield player doesn’t need raw power because his role in the team doesn’t necessitate it. But in such positions, such as centre-back, it does require it.
Where physical strength is desired too is the defensive-midfield role, a position where Liverpool happen to be very weak in at the moment. People will now jump out of their chairs and shout ‘LUCAS LEIVA’ but it is sadly apparent that the Brazilian simply doesn’t possess the qualities that this role demands.
The defensive-midfield role is fundamental to a team’s success. It entails breaking up and re-starting attacks for their team. To be a defensive-midfield player you must be tactically aware of everything that is going on around you. A positional sense where you pick up opposition attackers with ease and do not caught out leaving your defence outnumbered. However this is a situation where Lucas finds himself in all too often.
Some might say that Lucas was Liverpool’s man of the match in their opening game of the season against Stoke and to be fair he had a decent game, but you must factor in the opposition midfielders Glenn Whelan, Steven Nzonzi and Marc Wilson. Three players with no creative brain cell between them. This is why Lucas’ frailties went completely untested baring a last ten minute splurge which saw Simon Mignolet announce himself by saving a penalty and ultimately three points for the reds.
In the first half of Liverpool’s most recent game they completely dominated and outclassed Aston Villa, however one would argue that Villa were fatigued having already played Arsenal and Chelsea earlier in the week. Although this excuse would prove to be inaccurate in the second-half as the Birmingham outfit came storming out of the traps. Lucas was caught out of position too often for Rodgers’ liking in this half with the energy of Fabian Delph and Leandro Bacuna breezing past him. It almost seemed in the last half an hour that Lucas was beginning to tire, which led to many misplaced passes and positional errors. Luckily Liverpool’s defence, goalkeeper and Sturridge saved a valuable three points for the Reds once again in this game – maintaining a 100% record.
What is also worrying is that there is no discernible competition for Lucas. Liverpool literally have one defensive-midfield player in their squad, and even giving Lucas the tag of being a ‘defensive-midfielder’ is very generous as he rarely fulfils his defensive duties. There has been no mention of bolstering the midfield in this window which suggests that the four of Lucas, Gerrard, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson will be the cluster that the manager has to choose from. The sad reality is that with no out-and-out defensive midfield player, Liverpool will struggle against the creative and athletic midfielders of the league. For Rodgers to be seemingly content with his limited choices in midfield is very concerning.
Indeed Gerrard is the other sitting player in the two with Lucas in midfield. Gerrard would be classed as having deep-lying playmaker task. However he doesn’t occupy as much of the defensive obligations as the Brazilian but sometimes finds himself covering for Lucas when he is out of position. This in turn leads to Gerrard’s creative expertise being limited.
This is not to say that Lucas isn’t a decent midfielder, he has a great attitude and is an astute tackler. He would be an acceptable squad player but no more than that. The harsh reality is that Liverpool will persist with Lucas as their defensive-midfielder this season unless the problem becomes so distinct that they might look at it in the January window.
On most occasions the attackers get all the plaudits for teams excelling and the defenders get the criticism when a team is struggling. The defensive-midfield role is one of such complexity that it sometimes goes unnoticed. Make no mistake about it, as the season wears on people will start to notice Lucas’ imperfections when he comes up against the intelligence of such attacking midfielders as David Silva, Santi Cazorla, and Juan Mata. Or when he faces the powerful and athletic midfielders such as Yaya Toure and Paulinho.
Liverpool’s success with Lucas remains to be seen. Nevertheless, one would argue if they had an upgrade on the holding-midfield position, their chances of success would be far greater
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