When I think of last season’s quarter final against Chelsea, first thing coming into my mind aren’t the goals Kenny Dalglish’s team scored. I don’t even remember those to be honest. In fact, the only view I can remember from that game is Lucas Leiva being stretchered off the pitch with knee injury. I guess that shows how important Brazilian player was for Liverpool back then and how great was his form. Now Lucas is a different footballer, struggling to get back to his best, though still being a very important part of his team.
Much has changed since Leiva’s injury period began. He’s now rebuilding his form under new manager, who’s implementing a new philosophy. That’s why this comparison is not just about checking if Gremio-raised midfielder is far from playing his best football. It’s also meant to check if the role Lucas plays in Brendan Rodgers’s team is different from the one he played under Kenny Dalglish.
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The comparison of Leiva’s last season’s defensive stats and the present ones shows how far from his best Brazilian is. Although now it takes him a bit less time to win a ground 50-50 than it did in the previous season, it’s this way because he simply gets into this kind of situations more often, not because he got better at it. In fact, his ground 50-50’s win % have lowered from 66% to 55%, which makes a big difference.
Lucas tackling got worse too, as his tackle success % fell from 76,47% to 72,97%. He also tackles slightly more seldom, as his mins per tackle ratio changed from 15 to 16. The difference is really small though, so it’s better not to make any conclusions regarding Leiva’s role in the new Liverpool team or changes in his style of play. The really important thing isn’t how often Lucas tackles the ball, but how good he is when he does it, and the stats show he’s still not at his 2011/12 level, though the improvement he needs to make isn’t that big.
It takes Leiva slightly more time to intercept the ball now than it did in his previous campaign, but the difference is minimal here as his mins per interception ratio changed by only 0,5. What should worry Liverpool fans though is the fact that Lucas gets dribbled past much more often and got really error-prone compared to Dalglish’s last season. Previously it took the popular midfielder 87,1 minutes to let opposition player dribble past him. Now it’s almost half that time, and whilst being dribbled past isn’t that horrible, making defensive mistakes is. Last term Lucas didn’t commit even a single defensive error in 1045 minutes he spent on the pitch. He’s done it 3 times so far this campaign, which means he statistically makes this kind of mistakes every 396 minutes.
Lucas possession stats have changed too. The Brazilian midfielder loses the ball more often now than he did in his great form, with his minutes per loss of possession ratio differing from 261 to 198. If you consider that staying in possession is a fundamental part of Rodgers philosophy you have to admit that the fact Lucas’ numbers have dipped a little is a bit worrying. Still, it might just be the outcome of Liverpool player seeing much more of the ball than he did under Kenny. The good news is that Lucas seems to be winning possession as often as he used to do it in his previous campaign. In fact, his mins per possession won ratio got slightly better, changing from 13 to 12.
The look at Lucas passing stats should not only show us how did it change since 2011/12 season, but also help us to check if the role he now plays for his team is different from the one he played for Kenny Dalglish. Unsurprisingly, Lucas’ passing accuracy has improved under Brendan Rodgers, raising from 85,47% to 88,85%. The difference isn’t too big here, but it’s still an improvement.
There’s a reason for his increase too – basically, Lucas is now sending much more of his passes to the left instead of playing them forward. In other words, his passing is much more horizontal now and it’s always easier to find a teammate with the ball played to the right or left than it is with the forward pass, that’s why I think Lucas passing accuracy could still get better.
It would be unfair to say that the change in Lucas passing direction is caused by the lack of confidence, though some could think so after a brief look at where he attempts his passes. Liverpool player is now making his passing even deeper than he used to do it in the previous campaign, but I’d say it’s more about the change in the role he plays under Brendan Rodgers than the player simply losing his confidence and going deeper to make his passing easier.
Part of Lucas’ job is to help build the passing play from a deeper position, something he didn’t have to do that much in more direct King Kenny’s Liverpool side. That’s why his passes are attempted deeper and sent to his left or right instead of being played forward. He also attempts much more passes than he did in the previous campaign, as he has played 940 passes so far compared to last season’s 687, which is another evidence of his bigger involvement in the build-up play.
Lucas has to stay deeper in his position as Liverpool attack much more and both full-backs are involved in attacks. Liverpool have conceded many goals on counter attacks without Lucas and his return has boosted the side especially as Joe Allen has played with a shoulder injury since October.
Although Lucas is still some way off from his top form, he’s still a magnificent player, who will surely reach his pre-injury level eventually. Lucas recently admitted that he isn’t at his best after the injury and is still working his way back to his best form. After all, the Liverpool midfielder is known of his psychical strength. He has managed to become one of the Reds most influential players after really hard first couple of seasons in English football and sooner or later he’ll rise to his best again.
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