Rarely has the statement ‘you don’t now what you have until it’s gone’ been more applicable to a Liverpool player than with Lucas Leiva. The 25-year-old Brazilian was in excellent form before his unfortunate injury at the end of November last year. Following the departures of Xabi Alonso and then Javier Mascherano to Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, Liverpool were in dire need of a player to plug the gap. Lucas did more than that.
Initially, many believed that Lucas was of a similar calibre to Arsenal’s Brazilian experiment – Denilson. The 2010/11 campaign proved that to be a fallacy, the point was emphasised as Lucas began 2011/12 in a similar fashion. Before his injury at the end of November, Lucas had the highest tackle success rate in the league. He appeared the perfect linking player between midfield and defence, there to break up attacks before passing the ball on to more attacking team-mates.
Before Lucas was injured Liverpool were, in the Premier League, conceding on average 0.9 goals per game. They were also earning 1.76 goals per game and were sixth in the table.
After his injury Liverpool conceded an average of 1.11 goals per game an earned around 1.2 points per game, they finished eighth in the league.
Now, clearly there were other factors that contributed towards Liverpool’s slide in form, such as the suspension of Luis Suarez. However, due to the club’s fixtures in the Carling and FA Cup Suarez’s ban don’t impede on the league as much as it could have done.
Moreover, considering that most of the teams Liverpool were competing against were involved in European football you would imagine that Liverpool, having no such distraction, would be less tired towards the end of the season. Subsequently, you would expect them to perform better than their rivals, not worse. It is also important to remember that Steven Gerrard returned from injury for the second half of the season and Liverpool’s form still dipped.
The problem for Liverpool was the lack of an ample replacement for Lucas. Jay Spearing was drafted in to take the mantle yet in his first game as Lucas’ replacement he was sent off for a rash challenge on Moussa Dembele.
Eight months on and Lucas is on the mend. His knee surgery had him crutches for over two months and the midfielder admitted that he was worried he may never be the same again.
“To be honest, in a few moments I thought I couldn’t come back any more,” the Brazil international told the BBC.
“It comes through your head that you might not be at the same level you were before, but at the same time you see big players who had the same injury come back and be even better. There is no need for me to be scared. Rather than stay protecting myself, I need to work on my head as well to come back and play the same way I was playing before. One of the things which made me strong in the team was how aggressive I was in tackles and things like that, so I cannot lose that.”
And Liverpool fans will indeed hope that Lucas not only returns for the beginning of the season, but returns with the same enthusiasm and form that earned him a place in Liverpool’s starting eleven.
The former Gremio man will undoubtedly need time to adjust after such as long period away from the game yet with the mentality depicted in his words he is already on the right path.
Brendan Rodgers may not have the level of money that was available when the club’s American owners first arrived but in Lucas he has a player returning around which he can build a midfield. Lucas may be understated, but is importance to the team should not be underestimated.
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