NOW unbeaten in seven in the league, it is becoming pretty clear that Liverpool are heading in the right direction. Some of our performances are patchy in places and I would dearly love us to get our starting tactics right instead of altering them on the fly, but we’re beginning to string a bit of a run together.
But I am keen to see how one big missing piece of the puzzle gets on, and I can’t wait to welcome him back, because my arms will be wide open as Lucas Leiva continues the comeback trail.
Assistant Manager Colin Pascoe said earlier this week that the Brazilian could be involved in the Swansea City game.
And what a boost to the team he will be. I freely admit I am a little biased to the affable midfielder, and absence has really made my heart grow fonder. I think Lucas is a terrific player. We have missed his energy and enthusiasm but he has the most important thing we’re missing at the moment – the second ball.
I am constantly banging the second ball drum but I cannot emphasise its importance. Without Lucas, for which we have effectively been for 12 months barring a handful of games, we have approached games the right way but have been caught out in midfield too many times.
It’s simple for the opposition. Without anyone sitting that bit deeper to compete for the loose ball, or someone sitting in who lacks the quality or anticipation or battling skills, it’s very easy to upset our rhythm in midfield, and it opens easy doors to the heart of our defence.
This is the role we asked Charlie Adam to play a lot last year, and he just doesn’t possess the fitness or reading of the game to do it effectively. It’s not his game. I thought we would ask Jordan Henderson to do it on a regular basis but we haven’t for whatever reason. He did come on against Wigan on Saturday and make a big difference. Despite us always being the better and more positive team, Wigan were outnumbering us until Henderson was introduced. When he came on and buzzed behind the midfield four we were a different proposition.
Will we stick to 4-1-4-1 when Lucas returns? I don’t know; it’s a conundrum. That could free up Allen and Gerrard to push further forward and do what we do best. I think Allen has deputised for the Brazilian well but it stymies his natural game, which is to play 10-15 yards further up the pitch and look to build attacks.
Or will we stick with 4-3-3, with Lucas simply being the man who always drops in? Long term I think we’ll go 4-3-3 and Rodgers’ next task is to integrate Lucas into the midfield. I have every faith in the Brazilian. He’s never been a spectacular passer or a goalscorer (though he once scored 21 goals for his Brazilian team), he does the dirty work and that’s what we’ve missed so badly over the past year. It’s been all too easy for inferior teams to cause us problems defensively because we aren’t winning anything in midfield.
This is where Lucas is simply monstrous. He hoovers up so many loose balls. It enables us to break up the opposition attack and start to launch one of our own. His absence has been a huge blow to us, one that should have been softened over one of the two transfer windows we’ve had but we all know that the owners are obsessed with cutting the wage bill as opposed to adding depth to the squad.
The coming weeks and months are important to Lucas now. He’s had his serious injury and as often happens, had another smaller injury not long after. For his long term fitness we need to get him on the pitch for as much as we can for the rest of the season. Obviously we are going to ease him back into the team as he is effectively back at square one like he was in July when he turned up for pre-season training. But he has only been back in training for a week and appears ready to get back playing.
And I for one can’t wait for that. Too often we’ve heard about our goalscoring problems but I think we’ve missed Lucas just as much, if not more.
Live4Liverpool is recruiting columnists. For further info contact the site editor at firstname.lastname@example.org