I have to admit that Lucas Leiva, under Benitez and Hodgson, was not my first preference in the midfield – nor the second through 6th.
He seemed like a large puppy loping around the field and getting into his own players’ way as much as his opponents’. Much like Joe Allen with Brendan Rodgers, I thought he was manager’s pet and got more first team time than he deserved.
All that changed when he became Liverpool’s Man of the Season in 2010/11. His ability to read opposition attacks and his incisive passes into the attacking zone showed that he had arrived and would be an asset to Liverpool for years to come.
Although he has been slow to recover from the shattering injury he received in a collision during a game against Chelsea, his late season form in 12/13 showed promise, and a solid pre-season this summer had Liverpool fans hoping to see the Lucas of old.
This past weekend’s performance at Stoke went a long way to showing us that the recovery time paid off (as well as the fact that we have physio staff that would never have shortened the top flight careers of Robbie Fowler and Harry Kewell). Lucas was every bit the model holding midfielder that he has shown himself to be in the past.
Throughout the game against the Potters, whenever a Stoke assault was about to materialize, Lucas was stationed at the strategic point of the attack, either stripping the ball from his opponent or restricting his movements until the rest of the Reds could move into their defensive positions. And it happened time and time again.
He won 6 of his 6 tackles on the ground and 3 of 5 challenges in the air; when one considers the size and physicality of the Stoke City players and the fact that Lucas is a mere 5’ 10”, this seems all the more impressive.
His run in with Steven N’Zonzi was very telling as well. With N’Zonzi starting handbags with the diminutive Coutinho, Lucas waded into the fray to support his teammate. This backed off the French giant who was so irritated at the intercession that he swatted Lucas on the head – an action which could easily have sent him to the dressing room with a red card.
In the same way that he never backs away from a challenge on the field, he never backs down from an opposing player. It is the kind of play which, hopefully, takes him back to the Brazilian national squad as a key midfielder.
Lucas was my Liverpool Man of the Match against Potters. Like many supporters, I appreciated the movement and inventiveness of Coutinho and the absolutely pivotal saves of Simon Mignolet on the penalty and rebound but for me it was the intelligence and skill of Lucas that allowed the free flow of the front men and eased the burden on the defenders.
On a day when there was no weak spot on the team, when every man played his best, it is difficult to single out one specific player as contributing the most. Coutinho’s continued inspired play, the leadership of the captain, the work rate of Hendo, the fine debut performances of Kolo Toure and Iago Aspas, the efficiency of Sturridge, etc., weaved through the team and united them into a cohesive unit that will be a force this campaign.
Finally, although Lucas’ impact on the game made him my Man of the Match, when it comes to impact on the season, I believe that the Mignolet saves that allowed Liverpool to win their first opening game in six seasons speaks well for the team’s future.
Perhaps the dismal luck that this team has experienced over the years will become a thing of the past and the team will regain their all-important aura of spirit and invincibility. Had it not been for the combined play of the entire side, it could have all gone wrong.
When seen in that light, Lucas’ clearance of a sure goal is just another illustration of his pivotal role in this year’s side and a sign that the last minutes of a game won’t lead to Liverpool’s downfall like it has so often in the last few seasons.
At the top levels of any sport, the difference between the top and middle of the road teams is often a matter of belief. This is the season to stop being the unluckiest side in the Premiership; it is time to relegate those ghosts of outstanding opposition keepers, questionable red cards, and recurring erosion of the woodwork to our ‘troubled’ period and usher in a season of lucky bounces and miraculous comebacks.
Then leave the rest to stalwarts like Gerrard and Lucas to allow that ‘luck’ to happen.