Lucas hints at brighter Anfield future
Lucas Leiva has often been dismissed as a mediocre battler with little or no star quality, but the much-maligned midfielder’s performance against Chelsea marked him out as an influential part of Liverpool’s recent recovery.
Few players have attracted as much ire as the combative Brazilian who was reportedly close to strolling out the Anfield exit door during the summer with a host of European also-rans touted as a possible destination.
But his performance in the 2-0 victory, for which he would have been a certainty for man-of-the-match unless a certain Fernando Torres had not bagged both goals, would have underlined his importance to manager Roy Hodgson.
He was everything that Liverpool fans expected when he first arrived from Brazilian side Gremio with a burgeoning reputation as an all-action, box-to-box player.
He was aggressive, snapping into tackles and driving menacingly forward, while guarding possession with a string of accurate passes.
It was all the more impressive for the contrast it presented with the player who was the focal point for so much of the antipathy directed at former manager Rafael Benitez’s team.
The Spaniard, who paid seven million pounds for Lucas’s services, persistently defended his under-performing player, but never escaped the accusations that he had signed a dud.
The Brazilian was often exposed for his inability to turn defence into attack as he was forced to maintain defensive discipline alongside Javier Mascherano, who was more naturally suited to the ‘holding’ role.
The partnership with the Argentine, who was himself limited in his passing ability, did not flourish but it was Lucas who bore the brunt of the blame.
He was expected to be the playmaker, having stepped into the clown-sized shoes of string-puller extraordinaire Xabi Alonso who left for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009.
It was a role for which Lucas had little aptitude.
Mascherano’s exit, however, coupled with the arrival of Raul Meireles from Porto, and Steven Gerrard’s occasional deployment in the centre of midfield, has eased the responsibility for seeking out the pin-point killer ball, for which he was often found wanting in the past.
He is now free to do what he does best: getting up and down the pitch with boundless energy, driving the team forward with sudden and surging bursts.
He has recently become a regular in the Brazil side and to put it simply, bad players do not manage to do that.
Liverpool have now won four games in a row, including three in the Premier League, and having endured more than his fair share of the blame, Lucas can rightly claim his share of the congratulations.
PHOTO: Liverpool’s Fernando Torres (R) talks with team mate Lucas Leiva (L) during a training session at the club’s Melwood training complex in Liverpool, northern England, August 4, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble