Lucas Leiva: The answer to Liverpool's midfield frailties?

Lucas Leiva: The answer to Liverpool's midfield frailties?

Liverpool continued their revival after a dismal start to the season with a 3-1 win against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium and for the second win in a row, their midfield featured Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian was deemed surplus to requirements in the summer, but with no replacement brought in, his stay has proved to be a blessing in disguise. On Tuesday night, as on Saturday against Stoke, he put in an excellent shift in the middle of the pitch with Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard given the license to attack. Both of them profited with a goal with Lucas tidying up at the back, winning the ball back for his team and circulating possession under pressure.

Lucas Leiva

Lucas is positionally aware and provides security to the Liverpool backline, something which Steven Gerrard has never been able to when deployed in the deep lying playmaker role. He receives the ball from his central defenders, dropping in between them when the fullbacks push forward and is a very good reader of the game. No wonder Liverpool’s decent performances of late have come whenever the defensive midfielder has been in the starting line-up. The gritty away defeat at the Bernabeu was followed by the draw at Bulgaria before the recent wins in the Premier League and all the games featured the 27-year-old, and on the cold Tuesday night in Leicester, he was Liverpool’s best player.

Lucas heat map against Leicester City

Lucas heatmap

Lucas’s role is a very important one. He sits in front of the back four, shuttling out wide to help out the fullbacks and rarely ventures forward to join in the attack, unlike when he found himself one-on-one against Asmir Begovic on Saturday. Against the Foxes too, he put in a tactically disciplined display and was always present to snuff out the home side’s counter attacks, something which the Reds have been very susceptible to in the recent past whenever he hasn’t featured.

Lucas passes against Leicester City

passes

Sitting at the base of midfield, the Brazilian attempted a match high passes with 59, completing almost 80% of those. He played 10 passes to Henderson, giving the English midfielder freedom initiate attacks as well as eight passes to Glen Johnson out on the flanks. Lucas used to be criticised for playing a lot of lateral passes, but they are an essential tool to stretch the opposition. Only seven of his passes were from inside the other half which stresses home his tendency to stay deep.

Lucas tackles against Leicester City

tackles

In the defeat at Crystal Palace ten days back, Gerrard made a grand total of zero tackles when he was played as the deepest midfielder.
Lucas made a remarkable eight tackles on Tuesday that was way above Mile Jedinak’s average of 4.3 per game, the Aussie captain leading that statistic for defensive midfielders. Lucas did end up committing four fouls breaking up play in the process, and none of them were what one would deem as cynical thereby escaping without a booking.

Lucas interceptions against Leicester City

interceptions

Jedinak has again intercepted the ball a league highest 4.1 times per game. Lucas himself made four interceptions against Leicester along with recovering the ball a game-high 12 times. With his high level of understanding of the game, Lucas is able to read the play quite well and therefore tends to get into such position from where he can make crucial interceptions. Along with six clearances, he was constantly protecting his defence.


Conclusion:

Lucas Leiva has hopefully made a lasting impression on Brendan Rogers and will continue to feature in the upcoming busy period. With Lucas, Liverpool have a record of played 10, W7, D1 and L2 while without him in 11 games, W2, D2 and L7. While he may not be even close to the monster he was turning back in 2011/12 when he suffered that fateful anterior cruciate ligament injury at Stamford Bridge, he is slowly but surely on the upward curve in terms of performances, and Liverpool could do much worse than the former Gremio player as their defensive midfielder.