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Lucas the Lazarus

by TheAnfieldWrap // 13 December 2012 // 14 Comments

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By Andy Gargett

IT has been a turnaround that would have made Lazarus proud. Former Kop boo boy Lucas Leiva is now widely heralded as the saviour for Liverpool’s current midfield malaise.

Lucas’ second long-term injury within the year has harmed Liverpool’s midfield and beyond. It is he who must provide protection against the counter attack, he who must dictate our passing tempo, he who must provide respite for the fatiguing Allen, he who must set the platform to enable Gerrard to get up the pitch, and the list goes on. It has become almost as clichéd as jeering him was a few seasons ago, but Lucas is now widely seen as the necessary tonic to kick start Liverpool’s life under Brendan Rodgers (perhaps only rivalled by the mythical attacking players to be signed in January).

It hasn’t always been this way. I admit that I took a long while to warm to Lucas. In the heady days of 2008/09 Lucas was the understudy for the midfield pairing of Alonso and Mascherano. Many unreasonably expected the apprentice to perform like the masters. All players make mistakes as they learn their trade. Unfortunately for Lucas, perhaps because he was a Brazilian and appeared to possess more graft than samba, he was afforded less patience than others.

Lucas Leiva meets independent Liverpool FC media outlets as he recovers from injury

The penalty he gave away (for clipping Jason Koumas) to provide an 83rd minute equaliser for Wigan and his sending off in the Derby in close proximity typified it. The concerns with an apparent predisposition to jumping in were only outweighed by the horizontal nature of his passing. I thought there were justifiable frustrations, but there are for all young developing players. I was wrong. Dead wrong – along with the rest of the doubters. Unlike Rafa, who knew all along and famously foretold that “people just don’t know how good Lucas is“, we were short-sighted.

When Lucas signed for Liverpool Rafa commented he had the character to do well in England. Like his ability, he has repaid that comment in spades. Lucas’ resilience is something that can only be admired. Despite the doubts and the jeers, he stuck at it and he stuck with Liverpool. Peter McDowell from LFCTV recently revealed that Lucas told Brendan Rodgers that he shed tears in the dressing room after games early in his Liverpool career. The abuse he suffered from our own fans is crazy. Sadly history seems to repeat itself with the likes of Jordan Henderson, who by the way has played a significant part in securing Liverpool’s latest two victories.

The revival of Lucas didn’t happen overnight. With Alonso leaving our midfield and team struggled in 2009/10. However the Alonso-shaped gap provided Lucas more and more game time. By then, not helped by poor team performances, many failed to notice the incremental improvements that were being made to his game. Illogical dislike was blinding them to the fact that a real player was emerging. Lucas’ progression can be juxtaposed to Liverpool’s further regression made under Roy Hodgson. And his form continued to improve under King Kenny. Deservedly Lucas was voted Liverpool Fans Player for the 2010-11 season – evidence in proof that he’d begun to win the masses over.

In the early games of last season Lucas again turned his game up a notch. It was his imperious performance against City, where he bossed and bullied Yaya Toure and co, that announced Lucas as world class. Unfortunately in the next fixture against Chelsea in the League Cup injury struck.

Without Lucas Liverpool’s form, the excellent cup runs aside, wavered and the listless performances with a soft underbelly became all too frequent. As Steve Graves cautioned it is wise to be wary of statistics that relate to performances with or without an individual player – there are many other variables at play. However when you look back at Liverpool’s form with and without Lucas since the beginning of last season, the numbers are hard to ignore. In that time Liverpool have played 38 league games without Lucas and have managed a very meagre 45 points. This equates to 1.18 points per game, or a dismal 13th position in the league last season. In contrast the 16 league games that Lucas has participated in, Liverpool have accrued 29 points. This equates to 1.81 points per game, or 68.8 points across the season. Last season that would have secured fifth place. This season, 16 games in, Chelsea sit third with 29 points. The contrast is stark and hard to ignore. Liverpool with Lucas is capable of challenging for the Champions League, Liverpool without Lucas is mid-table mediocrity.

Despite returning from injury and still acquiring full match fitness, the difference Lucas can make to this Liverpool team was on show against Southampton and West Ham. Southampton was quite remarkable given it was his first senior game back from injury. Seven of Lucas’ eight attempted tackles were successful. The rest of the team combined only completed eight tackles. Consequently the Brazilian made 46.6% of Liverpool’s successful tackles. He also completed the most successful passes, 76 from 88. This was 14 more than Daniel Agger who was the game’s next best. And he was ranked third with 17 attacking third passes, behind only Glen Johnson with 20 and Raheem Sterling on 18. Against West Ham, despite leaving the game on the 70 minute mark, Lucas was the game’s top passer, completing 63 of 69 passes.

However, I believe that the most impressive aspects of Lucas’ game are statistically non-quantifiable. His composure under pressure, reading the game and decision-making are second to none. It is this which adds the absent balance to the team. These attributes enable him to provide protection across the width of the back four. In my opinion Lucas is the best horizontal defensive player in the game, simultaneously providing cover for the fullbacks whilst also shielding the central defenders. This cover gives the fullbacks licence to push high up the pitch. It also enables a true “one and two” midfield setup, freeing up the other two midfielders (particularly Gerrard) to push forward and get closer the opposition box. Lucas is the team’s metronome, setting the passing tempo. As the deepest midfielder he is pivotal to the ball recycling that is synonymous with Rodgers’ possession-oriented philosophy. Yet he is equally adept at lifting the tempo playing quick diagonal balls through the defensive lines. Pass, pass, pass, kill – that is what Lucas can do.

His mental fortitude and nous were on show against West Ham. After an impressive start Liverpool wilted in the first half under sustained West Ham pressure (particularly after Enrique’s 27th minute substitution). Lucas was the calm amidst the storm. He remained solid defensively and steady on the ball whilst others around him looked more like headless chickens than professional footballers. Perhaps the only fault in Lucas’ performance during this difficult time of the game was that he did not, or could not, drag Liverpool’s back four up from the six yard box.

It says a lot about Lucas’ transformation that both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers could not manufacture adequate cover during his lengthy absences. It may also say something about both managers and the depth of the squad but that aside it is an understatement that his return is very welcome. Let’s hope as his fitness returns he can reach his previous heights and beyond.

Impressive though it has been, we don’t want to see his Lazarus act again.

@AGargett

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14 Comments

  1. I wouldn’t mind seeing Henderson pull off the Lazarus act, and I believe he is more than capable of doing so. At the minute he looks to be a good utility substitute – i.e. he could come on and finish the job in any one of the three midfield positions to give Lucas/Allen/Gerrard a rest, he can also fill in on the right wing or at right back, but he can be much more than just a handy player to have on the bench. Give him the same time and patience awarded to Lucas and I believe he could do the same.

  2. Always fantastic articles on here but this one is the best I’ve read in a very long time, Lucas is pivotal to our success and I’m glad the haters have eventually realised how good he really is…. Great stuff

  3. Nice piece Andy I think you’ve captured my thoughts on what Lucas brings to the team rather well. Not all the doubters have been won over though, one of my followers on twitter still regularily slates Lucas. The thing is this guy ‘claims’ to manage a team in some Welsh League.

    • A person would have to be quite stupid to not get what Lucas’ contribution is this last couple of seasons, or how important that role is to almost any team.

  4. Nice read. Is sad that Lucas actually cried in his first games here. We should really just support our players. All this abuse players like Henderson and Downing get is not healthy at all. If you are wearing a red shirt I will support you in the good and bad.

    Lucas is one of the many pillars supporting this great club.

  5. Brilliant stuff and lots of discussion points. I’d like to zone in on one in particular considering we have quite a few young players in our squad.

    Not only has this well-written article been a pleasure to read but it serves as a lesson for football fans. Often a manager’s trust in a struggling young player or young signing is questioned quite ferociously and openly. Questioning is fine but jeering? Insults? We want our players to be loyal and “get” the club but sometimes it is the support from the crowd, the letters of encouragement that sticks in a player’s mind.

    I hope our young players in the current first team squad aged between 18 and 22 aren’t heckled or written off after a season or a setback.

    That “dead kid” might just be, as Andy Gargett has described, our next “lazarus” who we can’t live without.

  6. Good read. It’s interesting you bring up ’08/’09 and him the being understudy to a world class Mascherano-Alonso midfield with his performances looking comparatively weak (how could they not?) because people always forget it was actually a Mascherano-Lucas midfield for the 4-1 against United, providing a platform for Gerrard and Torres to do what they did and help stop Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney from doing what they would usually do. United wouldn’t be so outclassed in midfield till… Well, actually they played Barca just a couple of months later didn’t they, but still!

    I don’t think we should forget what a deer in the headlights he was his first couple of years though. It’s what completely makes his rise to prominence as one of our best players and evidently THE most important player to how we want to play so unique. The story of great players always being great players is boring and unrelatable to talentless normals like myself. His evolution from having Scholesesque timing on his tackles (not even ‘good’ fouls either. He wasn’t even cynical/smart enough to pick up bookings for persistent fouling in the middle of the park; literally just running in to people in and around either box) to being the premier holding player in the division (and beyond, arguably) within a couple of years from about the season beginning in 2009 to the start of last season is exponential improvement which defies belief.

    Not ‘Kammy’ unbelievable either; I’m genuinely unsure of how Lucas got from points A to B. I think it finally clicked with me personally against Benfica when he went through and rounded he keeper. Thought it was Torres until it was announced over the tannoy. If I’m not mistaken, I think that was also the game Lucas got honest-to-goodness, managerial PDA from Benitez(!) with the thumbs up, although rumour has it an outraged Sam Allardyce was watching on the tele and thought Rafa was signalling to him how far up Ferguson’s arse he is. It was also the last game I can remember watching Torres as a Liverpool player without a face like a smacked arse on him.

    Speaking of which, my theory is that Lucas is the progression over the Shakespearean tragedy that is/was Torres’ regression. Both bought in the same window of 2007 with one being the rightfully adored superstar and the other being the much maligned scapegoat (scapekid?). We slowly but surely lost one of the world’s finest CFs but gained one of the best DMs around about the same period when you think about it. Pretentious way of looking at it I know, but it helped me get through Torres leaving (even more so than the arrival of Suarez, who was bought to play alongside Torres).

    He makes it look so efortless too, even after he’s only played about an hour of competitive football in over a year, like his return to the side against Southampton the other week as you pointed out. I was wary his lack of match fitness could see the game pass him by but he hadn’t missed a beat. To see how difficult the role can be look no further than Sunday’s Manchester derby and watch England internationals Carrick and Barry drown in a game that went end-to-end with the attacking players finding time and space whenever they felt like it.

    He reminds me so much of Didi Hamann; such a calming, reassuring influence on the rest of the team and you don’t realise just how good he is till he’s absent. He’s not such a cool customer that he smokes cigars while playing at the top level like Didi. If I had one criticism of Lucas is that he could definitely improve the cigar smoking side of his game.

    The Henderson comparison is really interesting. Another young confidence player who’s struggled to find his role in the team just like Lucas did. I don’t blame him entirely for this but last season Henderson didn’t really know where to be or what to do and ended up doing not much of anything and. Not quite playing the role of Gerrard when he was out and not quite being where Lucas might be when he was injured either. His fearful, unsure performance against Wigan last season where he got dragged off at half time, or more accurately was mercifully saved from a rotten crowd of bad cranks in Anfield for that game, typified this and reminded me of early Lucas confusedly wandering about like Bambi on ice. It probably didn’t help that he was doing the running for both himself and Adam after the hour mark of most games all season but there was definitely a player there, regardless of whether Comolli paid over the odds for him.

    Even Benitez whose belief in Lucas being a good player never wavered, wasn’t quite sure what type of good player he’d be initially (e.g. there’s a Youtube clip of Rafa being interviewed when he was signed talking about him scoring goals and being more of a attacking midfielder, the straight swap for Gerrard during the derby five years ago which left everyone in Goodison dumbstruck seems to back this up, even if he was denied an unlikely winner by the Hand of Gary’s brother). Hopefully a) Henderson’s part to play in this team isn’t solely being Stevie Gerrard’s legs and b) his goal in the Europa League can be his crystallising moment like Lucas’ in the same competition against Benfica. His assist for the winner against West Ham coming off the bench for Lucas of all people, isn’t a bad way to kick on either.

    • Excellent post mate. I definitely see the Didi Hamann comparisons and like most fans, I fear for our midfield when Lucas is unavailable. Lucas’ rise to prominence has been a wonderful and unlikely story. Okay, maybe not to Rafa but to most of us here. I thought he could be a useful player for us but never this vital to the team!

      Last week was pretty good for Jordan Henderson. I hope he continues to improve, does well and at least has a future as a trusted squad player beyond the next two transfer windows. Brad Jones’ new contract shows that Rodgers is able to change his mind about a player if he’s convinced by his work ethic, professionalism, commitment to the club and performances. I think Henderson’s ticking all four boxes now instead of just three.

  7. Great read – thanks.

    The point about his movement across the pitch is bang on, and something people don’t often appreciate. I actually think its one of the main reasons why Enrique’s performances appeared to plummet in the second half of last season. When Lucas was in the team, Enrique hardly ever found himself isolated against one or even two attackers. That’s got a knockon benefit for our centre backs too who aren’t forced to compromise their position.

    I suppose as fans we also need to be realistic about what we expect from a player who’s just come back from two injuries. If it takes him a wee while to get back up to the same level as he reached last season. Let’s hear the Lucas song booming out every week. If ever a player has earned our unwavering support, it’s Lucas Leiva.

  8. Diame!

    Almost joined us for free in the summer until Kenny got the boot. He was worried about how much playing time he would get.

    This man owns the pitch and can hold or drive forwards, as he showed when we were at West Ham. We only won that game because he came off injured.

    With him and Lucas, NOONE gets through, I don’t care what team we play. They would be the platform that sends us into the top 4.

    He would be a transformational signing and his release clause is £3.5m !! That’s it, for a TRANSFORMATIONAL signing.

    Because lets face it, we’re not getting into the top 4 without a transformational signing, and noone we’ve bought yet or will buy in January can be described as such.

    Rodgers’ belief in Allen means this won’t happen, however, I think missing this opportunity is going to be Rodgers’ biggest mistake while being Liverpool boss.

    The midfield is currently a bit of a mess. Rodgers’ requires mobility which Gerrard no longer has and Allen cannot compensate for.

    While Henderson seems to be finding a place as a super sub he’s a couple of seasons away from being a reliable starter.

    Diame’s effect would be profound, and he can score, unlike Allen.

    Rodgers appears to have adapted his Swansea style to be more direct presumably because our players suit that more, and there is an emphasis on doing things sooner on the pitch. Passing, shooting, everything, leading to a more direct style.

    But I think we’re going to miss this signing because I don’t think Rodgers sees the midfield as a problem which it most definitely is.

    For 50 minutes in the middle of the West Ham game, we were useless. And that was playing our 3 MF players of preference.

    To me that’s a serious problem, but here we have the option of so easily fixing it that we’re going to ignore. Diame would be our Fellaini.

    Instead I’m going to get depressed over an over priced Sturridge and Ince arriving.

    • Diamé is what I’m reading from you Jonny. That and a midfield mess. I think we are too reliant on Lucas being fit and on song for the midfield to operate. He’s finding his way back but I would like to see him have the option of sitting on the bench, rotated for his own benefit.

      Diamé is versatile and if the £3.5 million release fee is true then that’s a fantastic opportunity to strengthen our side and squad. On Gerrard and Allen, I think a lot of good would come from each player being rested once in a while. Sometimes it does look like Gerrard is playing as the link man with Allen further forward when each is better in the other role. Hopefully the time and personnel rotation will improve matters.

      In our next 5 league games, I hope Henderson and Sahin will be given a chance to start at least two of them. We may lack depth in the defensive midfield position but in the central and attacking midfield slots, Rodgers can count on Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, Sahin, Suso, and Shelvey.

  9. oreover, as one commentator said in the Southampton game – “Lucas is probably the nicest man in football.” Second commentator – “Yes, he certainly is.”

    I warmed to Lucas immediately he arrived, and posted on the Echo blog that his critics had clearly never played football. After one game, when one of the plonkers who LOVE to touch players as they walk off pointedly ignored Lucas, I really felt for him. I said to my son “If we let this boy go to another Prem club he will come back and bite us on the arse.”

    Exquisite timing, and great peripheral vision. I don’t like to badmouth players, but if Stewart Downing had Lucas’ strength of character he wouldn’t be surplus to requirements. Lucas Leiva should be our next club captaain.

  10. Should be our next captain once Stevie’s gives up the reins. He’s magnificent, I loved him from the day he joined, I could see his ability and he was harshly sent off in that derby (received first yellow because of a dive). One thing I loved in the game against West Ham was when we were under the cosh, Agger and Skrtel would be heading crosses away, sometimes poorly (or because of the difficulty of the header), they would end up on the edge of our box or inside the box and Lucas would be there. Hoof it clear? Nope, calm and composed he would just slide a forward pass out to one of Sterling, Allen, Cole or Shelvey, meaning we’d keep possession and could move out of our little defensive cul-de-sac.

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