Into his seventh season with Liverpool, Lucas Leiva is still someone that needs to prove his value to the club over and over again. In a central midfield consisting of only two players right now – Steven Gerrard and Lucas, it seems like the Brazilian simply isn’t good enough for what the club is trying to do and achieve.
Facts are facts, even if pinning failure on just one player in a team sport is the wrong way to go about this. Since Lucas became a starting and irreplaceable player for Liverpool after the departure of Xabi Alonso, the club has failed to finish above sixth. For a team that last season seemed to be determined on winning possession every single match and playing that kind of football, having a midfield duo with a player like Lucas in it is simply impossible.
Liverpool have had an annoying trend follow them this year: Strong first half performances before a 180 turn at half time, turning into a defensive, limited and important unit in second halves of matches. Most of the time it works out well, as Liverpool have only dropped five points so far this season. However, their inability to dominate matches against weaker opposition (Liverpool have had a comfortable schedule, mostly, to start the season) has been a bane they need to solve.
Steven Gerrard can no longer be a part of a two-man midfield and do the job for two players. He either drops deep and neglects his attacking duties or focuses on joining the attacking group but leaves Lucas all alone. Against certain opponents, like Crystal Palace, that’s fine, but Liverpool actually played with Jordan Henderson next to Gerrard in something of a 3-5-2 formation, with Kolo Toure being a semi full back.
Once Philippe Coutinho and Glen Johnson return the experiments will stop in terms of formations, but the problem still exits. Even if Luis Suarez is the kind of striker that helps you in a way that sometimes cancels out the need for a more attacking central midfielder because it feels like he’s all over the place, it seems that Lucas’ necessity only exists when Liverpool are playing against a superior rival, for example Manchester United, the only big team Liverpool have met so far this season.
Is Jordan Henderson the answer, or simply a shift to a three man midfield? Henderson has been playing on the right wing all season, wasted away there on tactical and defensive missions. Raheem Sterling, however, has been disappointing in whatever role he’s been given. It’s going to be interesting to see just how Coutinho’s return changes the lineup, and who gets dropped, with most fingers pointing at Victor Moses at the moment.
Teams don’t always win with a strong midfield unit – Manchester United from last season are a perfect example. But that’s the exception. In the Premier League and almost everywhere, two man midfield units are a thing of the past, and even if they do exist, it’s only on paper, with a winger or someone from the attacking trio dropping back to give a helping hand. Liverpool, with the quality they have in their unit, need someone better than Lucas to help Steven Gerrard be all that he can still be on the final days of his fantastic career, especially if they plan on this season to be the one they return to prominence after years of being left outside.