Liverpool are currently sitting in 7th position in the Premier League, 6 points off fourth place Chelsea. Their impressive Carling Cup victory over Manchester City masks their recent poor league form, the latest set-back coming away at Bolton last weekend. Think Football asserted recently that Dalglish deserves some blame, however he will certainly rue the fact that the club lost influential defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva for so much of the season.
Lucas’ form prior to getting injured
Lucas was once despised by Liverpool fans, but since he has come on leaps and bounds even winning the fans player of the year award last season. He has emerged under Dalglish as one of Liverpool’s best players and in their current formation he has to be regarded as one of the most influential, if not the most influential player.
Lucas played 12 times in the EPL this season before getting injured and by all accounts played very well alongside Adam in the middle of the park. Defensively he was very good as we’d expect with 5.7 tackles per game, more than any other player in the league, his 2.8 interceptions per game were more than any other Liverpool player and demonstrate Lucas’ importance at breaking down opposition attacks. Lucas’ stats compared to other players in his position are incredibly good. His tacklers per game as stated are more than any player in the EPL and only Cattermole and Carrick complete more interceptions playing in that role. His high number of tacklers per game reflect even better when we consider that Carrick completes 4.1 per game and Parker 4.
Another interesting statistic is that Lucas completes more passes per game than any other Liverpool player with 57.3 and with an accuracy higher than Charlie Adam, 86%. Clearly Lucas’ role is not just to break up opposition attacks but also to start attacks for his own side. Which is further demonstrated by the number of long balls he plays, 3.9 per game, surprisingly more than any Liverpool defender. The reason for this is not because he is negative but because he likes to switch the play from deep, as well as to pick out the forwards and initiate quick attacks.
Why is he so important?
Lucas is somewhat of a ‘water-carrier’ type player for Liverpool which is why he often goes unnoticed by opposition fans. It is no surprise that in the 12 games he did play this season he has no goals and no assists, as he simply is not that sort of player.
The loss is a great shame for Adam, as an attacking, ball playing midfielder it appeared an ideal centre-midfield pairing to have him playing alongside Lucas, a more defensive minded midfield shield. Lucas being fit would allow Adam to push into the final third and create chances for himself and other players.
Liverpool unfortunately do not have a like for like replacement for Lucas which means his injury has proven incredibly problematic for Dalglish. This has had ramifications for other Liverpool players due to the reshuffles it has prompted. Adam for example, has been forced to play a deeper role now he does not have the protection of Lucas. For example against Bolton Adam played as the more defensive minded central midfielder alongside Gerrard, a role that he is not massively comfortable in. With Lucas in the side the midfield could almost operate as a 4-1-3-2 rather than a 4-4-2. This afforded the other midfield players license to drive forward knowing Lucas was sitting in behind on the cover.
The ability of a player like Lucas is not just felt defensively, Liverpool have defended adequately without Lucas but it’s their attacking potency that has been a worry. The loss of Lucas is central to this, as stated he allows other players to get forward, but as well as this he also initiates a lot of quick attacks by intercepting the ball in the midfield as well as winning tackles to break up play and start counter attacks.
In the 12 games Lucas played this season Liverpool only failed to score three times, in the 10 games since he has been out they’ve failed to score on four occasions. They also won 6 out of the 12 he was fit but have only won three games since his injury, losing two games out of 12 whilst he was fit, but losing 3 in 10 whilst he has been injured.
Lucas is apparently ruled out until June 12th which means, unfortunately for them, he will not feature again this season. With Liverpool 6 points behind Chelsea, and despite Chelsea’s iffy form, Liverpool themselves are not firing on all cylinders, thus it may be difficult for them to make up the gap. With the transfer window shutting shortly it may be an idea for Kenny, despite having a wealth of midfielders, to move for a holding player in the same mould as Lucas.
If Liverpool fail to finish fourth it is fair to say that this will be down partially to the tactics and transfers of Kenny Dalglish, but also due to missing Lucas who has been one of Liverpool’s most influential players for over a year now. When he returns it would be wise for Dalglish to build a side around the midfielder in order to get the best out of his attacking players.
It should also be noted that injuries cannot be solely to blame for any clubs failings. Arsenal for example have missed Wilshire for almost the entirity of the season so far and Chelsea have only just had Michael Essien back. Injuries are part of the game but it is unfortunate that Liverpool have lost such a central figure for all but 12 games of the season.
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