The importance of being Lucas Leiva
Certain types of players easily catch the eye, get the plaudits, become indispensable to a team, normally strikers or goal-scoring midfielders, however there are those who go under the radar. One that is maybe the most under appreciated is that of the real defensive midfielder, the ‘water-carrier’. There are questions if that exact role even exists in the modern game but whichever variation of it is played, it has become crucial within the Premier League and that has been highlighted at Liverpool.
Lucas, really epitomizes ‘the destroyer’ a player who’s job is to win the ball back and pass it on to a more stereo-typically talented player to start an attack. Their role is to make up for the lack of defensive cover from some of the more creative players, despite defending increasingly becoming more of a team responsibility. They proactively look to win the ball back through a tackle or interception, breaking up the attack, protecting the defense or in some games just man marking an oppositions most dangerous central player.
One of these players who has got some respect and appreciation is Matic and his signing at Chelsea is what arguably is the foundation of what has turned them into the best team in the country. When he plays well he stops the centre halves from being exposed and it is clear to see that when he plays poorly like against Tottenham, the team itself suffers massively, in that instance shipping five goals. Arsenal have looked massively more impressive since young Coquelin has been recalled from loan at Charlton and put into the first team. His inclusion has given the Arsenal midfield such balance, compared to Wilshere or the over the hill Flamini. Manchester City rely on a solid base of Fernando or Fernandinho and Manchester United also look much better when Carrick or Blind are in place in front of the back three.
However, the biggest obvious upturn in form when a player is in the side is that of Lucas Leiva. Back in November Liverpool were out of the Champions League and suffered an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace and Rodgers position was under heavy scrutiny. In response Rodgers changed to his now regular 3-4-2-1. The next Premier League game was against Stoke and the big news of the day was that Steven Gerrard was dropped and replaced by Lucas. Before the game he had only been involved in three fixtures but since then they haven’t looked back, he has only missed one game and that was by no coincidence the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United.
Since his reintroduction to the side Liverpool went from conceding 1.5 goals a game to 0.90 per game, it has also led to the teams talisman, Steven Gerrard being allowed to be rid of his defensive duties which he overall failed at and given the licence to return to former glories of his forward play-making ways. Gerrard managed on average 1.9 tackles per game and 0.7 interceptions per game whilst in the role, now compare that to what Lucas has achieved so far; he averages 4 tackles a game and 2 interceptions a game. The other players in the team have confidence in him aswell and that allows the full backs to commit to attacks knowing that Lucas is there to shield the defense and stop any counter attacks.
The greatest shame about Lucas is perhaps that even his teams own fans don’t appreciate him, many wouldn’t even blink if he was sold, and many say he is not good enough. Potentially back to the original point of that he isn’t a goal scorer or doesn’t zip past players or make last ditch challenges or maybe because like a goalkeeper when he does make a mistake it is clear to see and is heavily berated. If you want to take it from a stats point of view this season without Lucas, Liverpool have won only 3 of their 11 Premiership games and with him they have won 8 of the 12, impressive stuff.
Liverpool can no longer, with Gerrard aging and Suarez gone, rely on outscoring the opposition, so defensively solidity is far more important this season than it was in the previous one. He is the one who breaks up the play and starts up an attack, he may not be a spectacular passer but he is solid enough, he is exactly what Liverpool need in this time as they look re-emerge as a top four side.