As Brendan Rodgers continues to try and stamp his mark on Liverpool, you cant help but feel his task would be far easier if Lucas Leiva was at his disposal.
The Brazilian is facing two to three months out with a thigh injury he picked up during Liverpool’s second game of the season at home to Manchester City, having previously been out for six months with a knee injury.
It was evident for all to see how much Liverpool missed his services last season, as the second half of their season fell apart whilst Lucas could only watch from the stands. His tackling and passing stats remained at the top end of the statistics table at the end of the season, despite only featuring for three and half months of the campaign. A clear example of just how important he was to that Liverpool side.
Despite Rodgers reinforcing the central midfield over the summer, you feel his loss will be just as poignant this time around.
Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen were bought in to compliment the work Lucas does by keeping the ball moving and retaining possession, rather than replacing him.
Neither are considered holding midfielders, and having allowed Jay Spearing to go out on loan on deadline day, Liverpool do not have a recognised defensive midfielder currently available.
The position of the holding midfielder has become crucial over the years, and Lucas is regarded as one of the finest. The likes of Didi Hamman, Momo Sissoko and Javier Mascherano have all held the job with distinction for Liverpool in the recent past, and whilst Lucas originally struggled to emulate them, has now become a crucial member of the side and a fans favourite.
Rodgers spoke highly of the Brazilian upon taking the reigns at Anfield, saying how delighted he was to have him back at his disposal, and what a focal point to the team he would be. Speaking on his imminent return to the side in July, Rodgers described Lucas as ‘the ultimate professional’ adding ‘he is going to be a brilliant player in my career here.’
A midfield three of Lucas, Sahin and Allen would have the right balance of possession, energy, creativity and tough tackling, whilst it would have allowed Steven Gerrard to play in a more advanced position, and have the freedom to link up with the likes of Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini or Raheem Sterling.
With Lucas out, Joe Allen and Jonjo Shelvey have taken it in turns to fill that holding role, with Gerrard and Sahin yet to find their form and fitness respectively.
The recent defeat to Arsenal was a perfect example of how much Lucas is missed, as Arsenal time and again cut Liverpool open on the break. With Allen and Sahin drifting into their more natural advanced positions, the likes of Cardoza and Podolski exploited the space left between them and the back four with devastating effect. Podolski’s opening goal was a clear example of how sorely Lucas is missed.
You cant help but feel for Rodgers, who has had a difficult start to his Anfield career. Having Lucas available to implement the high pressing game he wants to play would make his job a whole lot easier you feel.
You wonder what alternative solutions for Liverpool could be. Jonjo Shelvey has impressed, and has shown he is capable of putting himself about with some tough tackling. However, Shelvey regards himself as a more attack minded player, and you wonder if the 20-year-old has the tactical discipline to stay in the holding role and not drift out of position.
Whilst Jordan Henderson remains Liverpool’s forgotten man, fans and seemingly Brendan Rodgers remain unsure as to what his actual position and role in the side is. One of his biggest attributes is his work rate, so perhaps a run in that holding position could bare fruit, especially with the former Sunderland man desperate to prove himself.
Steven Gerrard is more than capable of playing the role, but Liverpool’s attacking problems are there for all to see. Moving Gerrard back to the holding role, takes away a huge amount of Liverpool’s goal threat.
It is a problem that clearly needs to be addressed, but no matter who Rodgers selects to fill that role, he will still be faced with the same problem Dalglish had last season – they will not be as good at it as Lucas Leiva.