This writer must confess, Lucas Leiva has never been his favorite Liverpool player. The Brazilian is articulate, tidy, and one of the best holding midfielders in the world. Still, my eye is shallowly drawn to flashes of genius, readily shown by those who have the luxury of playing high up field where every twist and turn could lead to a goal. It’s only natural, I tell myself. Amongst all the excitement of watching Luis Suarez twist and turn three defenders it’s quite easy to forget how much easier the Uruguayan’s job, and those of his teammates, is made easier by the Lucas’ presence.
It’s all the more shameful because this writer has long considered himself too smart to be fooled by the myth of Brazil’s jogo bonito. The Seleção figured out long ago that the only way creative players flourish is with a strong base behind them. The true keys to World Cup success have always lain with players such as Gilberto Silva or Dunga. Hardly carthorses but players that excelled at the less glamorous part of the game. Still Lucas is overlooked. For shame.
Lucas Leiva is continuing the proud tradition of that very special type of enforcer. He is Liverpool’s Sergio Busquets, one of the best at fulfilling the new role of the holding midfielder. Busquets isn’t protecting the defense with last gasp challenges but rather keeping the side in a position from where those challenges don’t have to be made. Similarly, Lucas isn’t a pure destroyer but every player around him now has the freedom to express himself because there is organization behind them.
Against Southampton, all shakiness from Liverpool’s midfield seemed to have vanished. The midfield triangle could be flipped to a 1-2 without fear as Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard weren’t overloaded with. Things were done more as a unit. And for all the fear seemingly caused by West Ham’s aerial barrage it’s worth noting that no West Ham player scored from open play, with Lucas doing a decent job marshalling a side led by the rampaging Mohamed Diame.
Brendan Rodgers always talks about Liverpool becoming a side that cherishes the ball, and that means the idol to live up to has to be Barcelona. And Sergio Busquets is absolutely key to everything Barcelona do. With the ball he drops back between the center-halves, allowing the fullbacks freedom to give width to an often narrow side, almost keeping Barcelona in a metodo shape. Collecting the ball from Valdes or Puyol it is Busquets who starts most offensive moves, simple outlets to Xavi or Iniesta who display the stunning diagonals and through balls.
In his short time back it seems that Lucas has been trying to perform a similar job with Liverpool, dropping between Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel to ensure the Reds aren’t left with a shortage at the back when Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson bomb forward. Lucas has also been charged with instigating most of Liverpool’s forward moves, Leiva to Allen was the most common pass combination in the West Ham fixture.
Liverpool have been rebuilding for quite some time now, and it often hasn’t looked as if they’ve been doing it with a clear plan. Rodgers has a defined ethos, and although as a possession based team Liverpool are absurdly far away from the class of Barcelona or Bayern Munich, at least this rebuilding appears to have a point.