Liverpool central midfielder Lucas is quite the divisive figure when you canvass fans opinions across the country, but for majority of Liverpool fans he represents a try-hard figure that although not the most talented when it comes footballing ability is a decent squad member nonetheless – should he be pushed further forward though, like he was against Benfica last night, and he may start delivering on a regular basis a lot more.
I think we’ve all heard the rumours surrounding Lucas, that he’s one of the best performers on the training ground at Melwood and for some reason has yet to transfer this to the football pitch, which would go some way at least to understanding manager Rafa Benitez’s unequivocal faith in the player. But this reasoning isn’t enough; he’s decent in patches and in odd games, notably in Liverpool’s 5-1 destruction of Newcastle at St James’ Park last season and the 4-1 win over Man Utd at Old Trafford, but although consistent, the level of his play has left a lot to be desired.
Lucas really seems to be a player cursed by his nationality. The very qualities we appreciate in the traditional English central midfield man such as dogged determination, work rate and ability to keep the ball are present in Lucas, were he English he would have been championed by now in some quarters for a place in our very own World Cup squad. I’m not saying he deserves one, it’s just an indication of a real dearth in talent we have for the holding man position. He’s not your average Brazilian, let’s just say that.
It’s his position though in the Liverpool side that I really question though. Signed for around the £7m mark from Brazilian side Gremio, he was brought to the club as a promising box to box midfielder held in high esteem in his homeland. Since edging Momo Sissoko out of the side, and biding his time behind the flourishing partnership of Alonso and Mascherano last term, he’s since occupied a much deeper role than he’s used to this season.
I don’t buy into the idea that he’s a woefully inept footballer, greater minds than ours rate him, and whilst I wouldn’t say that alone is good enough for me, it’s a lazy caricature to slate him for his every performance because we expect him to embody a style of play his nation has adopted. In reality, Lucas is very much in keeping with the modern Brazilian central midfielder, where they make up for their considerable lack of technical gifts through hard graft and the ability to cover their more illustrious teammates (see Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva further for proof). He’s become the club’s scapegoat for recent failings, it’s as simple as that. Every side needs one, Man Utd of late have had Michael Carrick, Chelsea have Mikel and Arsenal have Diaby, so it’s not uncommon for fans to lay blame disproportionally at one player’s door as a sign of all the clubs ills.
He does admittedly have a fairly poor touch, and can appear like a headless chicken at times running around the middle and he can even frustrate with his penchant for passing the ball sideways far too often for a top four midfielder, but when given the chance to burst forward from deep, having been released from the defensive shackles that constrict him so much, he’s looked more like the player we all wanted him to be and that Rafa constantly tells us he is.
When Xabi Alonso played in front of the back four with Mascherano, his astonishing range of passing meant he wasn’t the archetypal holding man. With Lucas in there with Mascherano though, there really is no real need to play the two of them as ‘dogs of war’ in every match, for most games simply don’t require it.
Mascherano should be allowed to do what he does best, patrol the back four with menacing tenacity and Lucas should be allowed to break forward more, for when given the opportunity in the Europa League this term he’s looked rather handy. His goal against Benfica was marked by a delightful run and tidy finish after rounding the keeper and his bust into the box that won his side a crucial penalty in the tie against Lille are further evidence of his ability to be dangerous when having got forward.
Lucas can look rather ungainly and untidy at times, there is no doubt about that. He’s a squad player at most that’s been thrust into the limelight by Alonso’s departure and Aquilani’s injury problems and Benitez’s subsequent lack of faith in the Italian to be able to cope with the rigours of the league.
Lucas has been one of Liverpool’s most consistent players this season (I’m fully aware I’ve left myself open to the ‘yeah consistently crap’ brigade here but hey ho) but if Rafa pushed him further forward, I just feel Lucas may start to shed the image of the figure of ridicule he has unquestionably become and look more like the Brazilian all Liverpool fans thought they’d signed in the first place and truly realise his potential.
Written by James McManus