WATCHING Liverpool’s 3-0 home victory over Wigan was a pleasing experience.
A decent but ultimately fruitless first half performance from the Reds was followed up by a second half which saw Liverpool raise the tempo from the start, get the early goal and go on to stamp authority on the result.
The second home league win of the season, and the second in three home games, extends Brendan Rodgers’s side’s unbeaten streak to seven Premier League games and, significantly, has expunged the Reds’ unwanted record in recent seasons of having lost, on average, one out of every three league games.
What stood out for me (and others I’m sure) in the game against Wigan was the performance of Jordan Henderson as the harrying, holding central midfielder. Brought on around the half hour mark in a tactical switch for Suso, Henderson’s effort, energy and willingness in pressing the ball and trying to win it back, changed the complexion of the game and the effects were plain to see after the interval.
The introduction of Henderson for Suso (who wasn’t having a bad afternoon, by the way) allowed Rodgers to re-jig the midfield trio. Henderson, as mentioned above, dropped back alongside Joe Allen and assumed pressing duties. With Henderson doing most of the legwork Allen, who’s looked a tad jaded in recent weeks trying to play several midfield roles at once, was able to return to his more natural position as the middle man in Rodgers’s three. Once there, the Welshman began very quickly to show again why he is so good in that role. Quick passes, nearly always forward- looking for the runs of the strikers or playing it into feet, Allen hardly misplaced a pass in the second half, wasn’t caught in possession once and became the almost invisible, fulcrum of the Reds’ midfield.
Henderson’s introduction also allowed Steven Gerrard to get further forward, playing at the front of the midfield three. Gerrard’s best role in a Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool side has been the subject of much discussion, amongst Liverpool fans and pundits alike and the consensus seems to be that, as one of the club’s deadliest finishers, he would be best utilised further up the field rather than playing in the holding role like he does for England. Rodgers himself has even hinted that, once he has a fully fit squad to choose from, Gerrard may be brought into the front three in order to better utilise his creative and goal-scoring powers.
That brings me nicely on to the article’s main point. Jordan Henderson did a great job for an hour against Wigan and, for me, it’s a surprise that we haven’t seen Rodgers deploy him in that role more often. However, who the Reds are really missing, is Lucas Leiva.
Lucas is, quite simply, a World class holding midfielder. His absence arguable cost Liverpool any chance of mounting a real challenge for the top four last season and so far, Brendan Rodgers has for the most part, been denied the services of the Brazilian too. It’s no surprise that Liverpool don’t look the same team without him; Lucas is a natural ball winner; tenacious, strong, energetic, positionally excellent, with good vision, tactically aware, brave in the tackle and a good passer of the ball. Lucas’s absence would leave a massive hole in any top side.
Of course, it will take a while for Lucas to get back to his best. There is no telling quite what level he’ll be at, returning after such a long time, but for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool to have him available for selection again will be a massive boost. Lucas’s work in midfield is vital; he breaks up opposition attacks at source and, in turn sets us on the front foot. When Lucas plays Liverpool pick up more points, score more goals and concede less; the statistics prove this. His positional play and ability to read danger and snuff it out is a massive weapon against quick counter attacks, which we’ve been susceptible to conceding from so far this term. His return will allow Allen to play in the central role, with Gerrard being pushed further forward, this will also allow Gerrard and Suso to alternate between roles, fluidly switching between central and wide areas, creating many more problems for opposing defences.
It may be a cliché, but having Lucas available will be like having a brand new signing and a top quality one at that. His return will bring balance and stability to a midfield which has, at times, struggled positionally this season and will provide Rodgers with a firm defensive base to build exciting attacking play from.
It’s dangerous to put all our hopes on one player and that is not what I’m trying to do here. Lucas’s return will not be like the waving of a magic wand which will suddenly propel Liverpool to the top of the table. However, gradually, bit by bit, as his match fitness, strength and sharpness returns, Lucas will provide the side with those added ingredients which have, at times, been missing during his absence: steel, strength, experience and above all, top quality.
The Brazilian is set to make his comeback within the next week or so; let’s hope for all our sakes that we can keep him fit this time, because a fit Lucas means a healthy Liverpool.
You can catch up with Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 or on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/