Lucas Leiva injury a real problem for Liverpool FC defence.
By Kevin Morley.
During the pre season tour of America, Brendan Rodgers took time out to explain how important he saw Lucas Leiva to his future Liverpool side and his plans for the club as a whole. Rodgers not only explained how influential and positive Lucas is as a character around the club but also how vital he is to the emerging style Rodgers is seeking to implement at Liverpool FC. This is why the injury sustained by Lucas at the weekend, and the news that his absence could potentially stretch to early November, is so gut wrenching for the player, the team and the new manager.
Lucas has a pivotal role to play, protecting the final third of the pitch and nullifying opposition attacks before they reach the 18 yard box. In any Rodgers team, the mantra is to keep the ball and to win it back quickly if you have lost it. Lucas is key to winning the ball back, he is a pain for the opposition, that kind of player who appears from the side just when you thought you had made the space for a shot on goal. In fact, it can be argued that he is the only player of his kind in the current first team squad. This is one reason why his absence will be felt so significantly.
The second reason is that Liverpool have suddenly started to look like a team that will leak goals this season. So far, in the first two Premier League games alone, the reds have managed to concede 5 goals, if this continues then there will be an even greater need to put the chances away at the opposition end, something Liverpool certainly struggled to do last season. The absence of Lucas against Manchester City on Sunday certainly had an impact on the defensive solidity Rodgers will be looking for from his newly shaped Liverpool sides.
From the evidence of the game with Manchester City, there are early and encouraging signs that this new style of play is already starting to take shape. Joe Allen is showing signs that he can be the midfield timekeeper most of us know he will become. Allen achieved an outstanding 93.5% pass completion rate, with his through balls in the final third the kind Steven Gerrard would have been pleased to deliver himself. Fabio Borini showed he has the ability to become a 'fox in the box' - even though he never finished his early chance at the near post, he was in the right place at the right time, a golden rule for any striker. Borini also showed he is not short on either confidence or fight, his arms raised rousing of the Kop in the first half showing that he is feeling at home already.
As well as the home debutants, Nuri Sahin and Oussama Assaidi, two further attacking additions who are destined to bring aggression and goals to the side, watched eagerly from the sidelines as Liverpool, on occasion, outplayed last season's Premier League champions. So, Brendan Rodgers has clearly established a new attacking formation and brought in the players that can deliver this. The defensive display is where his concerns must now lay and, with Lucas potentially missing the next two months, this will no doubt be one of the key issues vexing the new Liverpool boss.
Neither Joe Allen or Nuri Sahin are naturally defensive midfielders, while they can fill this role, it will be at the expense of their natural role and will result in a lack of balance within the team. For this reason, I would not see either of those as a like for like replacement for Lucas. If the reshaped midfield is to be Sahin, Allen, Gerrard we can more likely expect a reshaping of the style of play with a more attacking feel to the midfield. Scoring goals in this shape may not be as much of a problem, but conceding them just might be.
If Liverpool are to challenge for the top four this season, defensive solidity will be vital to their chances of success. While the emphasis to date has clearly, and quite rightly, been on improving the attacking options, achieving this at the expense of defensive solidity will not deliver an improvement on last season's issues; it will merely shift the problem from one end of the field to the other. Whether Brendan seeks to bring in re-enforcements to counter the loss of Lucas will be clear in the next 72 hours as the transfer window draws to a close until January.