Against Everton, Lucas Leiva only passed to Charlie Adam twice in their 67 minutes on the pitch together, while Adam passed to Lucas five times. By comparison, Lucas passed to Steven Gerrard three times after he came on for Adam, a limited data set but one that nonetheless would equate to a healthy nine passes across a full ninety minutes. In return, Gerrard sent the ball to Lucas on five occasions, the same as Adam despite their much more limited time together.
In total, Lucas made 67 out of 74 passes from open play, a ninety percent completion rate. He made 57% of his passes to players ahead of him, and 5% to players behind him; went four out of six in tackling, attempting one every 14.7 minutes; and logged a pair of interceptions while winning a dozen 50-50 challenges in the air and on the ground.
Adam, his midfield partner to start the match, completed 34 of 42 passes from open play*, the resulting 81% completion rate his second highest of the season after Arsenal's 83% and only the second time he's topped 80% with Liverpool. Over a full ninety his rate of passing would have resulted in 56 attempts, on par with the matches this season where Adam has been most influential—for good or ill—from open play: Sunderland, Arsenal, and Stoke. He made 51% of his passes to players ahead of him and 7% to those behind him, and though he put in more effort defensively before Everton went down to ten men—he won five of his six successful 50-50 challenges before Jack Rodwell got sent off—he didn't attempt a clean tackle at any point. He was also dribbled past twice in defense, though in attack he was the only one of Liverpool's central midfielders on the day to be credited with creating chances—three of them, in fact—from open play.
Lastly, Steven Gerrard matched his pass completion rate of 80% from the 2010-11 season, completing 20 of 25 passes after coming on for Adam. He won two 50-50s and didn't record a successful tackle. He sent 55% of his passes forward and 5% backwards.
That Adam and Lucas could only manage to exchange seven total passes in 67 minutes together on the pitch is downright shocking, though it appears largely the result of the two players seeking to take up similar, parallel positions when building attack. Both would typically seek to drop back and provide the first outlet for the defenders and, as the ball moved up the pitch, wide players. And often this led to Adam and Lucas being mere yards apart without any Everton pressure in sight.
Lucas would typically already be in the deep lying midfield position as a result of his defensive duties, with Adam dropping back once Liverpool gained possession in the hope he would be handed the ball so that he could then launch the attack. At Blackpool, with two other midfielders tasked with the dirty work and Adam the star of the show, the ball being given to him in close quarters so that he could look to pick a pass would have been par for the course. But while Lucas has certainly established himself as one of the premier holding midfielders in the league, unlike Mascherano before him and the players Adam lined up with at Blackpool he has a clear idea of what he wants to do with the ball—and against Everton that meant that he wasn't going to just hand it off to a player sitting five yards square when the opposition wasn't exerting any pressure.
It's a touch ironic, given Lucas' initial reputation as a player who only passes it sideways and backwards to shirk responsibility, though of course the idea that Lucas only liked to play five yard square balls was always an oversimplification.
In search of space, Adam would at times drift to the left of midfield when he didn't receive the ball out of defense, looking to combine with Enrique and Downing on the flank to mixed results. At other times, with Everton down a man and unable to press as heavily after 23 minutes, Lucas also often took up advanced positions that he wouldn't have under normal circumstances. As with Adam's reluctance to stay forward when his natural instinct was to drop back after possession had been won, however, there was an obvious hesitancy on Lucas' part to vacate the holding position when Adam dropped back.
By contrast, when Gerrard replaced Adam in midfield the space between the two central players immediately increased. Instead of a level pair with both inclined to build attack in their own way, Gerrard immediately sought out the positions that Adam moved to only if he didn't receive the ball when shifting to provide a second outlet at the base of midfield. As a result, Gerrard became one of the players Lucas looked to cycle the ball to, and in return when Gerrard was put under pressure he showed a great willingness to play the simple pass back to Lucas so that the ball could be spat back out to an open teammate and the attack begun again.
This left Lucas largely alone at the base of midfield whenever Everton didn't have possession, yet on the handful of occasions when Gerrard did drop deep, Lucas showed a greater willingness to move forward where before he would only seem to vacate his role as the lone holding player grudgingly.
It might not entirely be a condemnation of Charlie Adam, who had his most effective showing in recent weeks, but it wasn't a coincidence that the more fluid interaction between Gerrard and Lucas was mirrored by a more fluid display by the entire Liverpool side in the final third of the match—and the pair of goals that provided the winning margin. It also can't be ignored that at least a portion of Adam having his most effective game in recent weeks was down to Lucas at times leaving him alone to build play as he saw fit, while when they both sat back there was an at times uncomfortable overlap between two teammates seeking to occupy the same space. It worked to an extent against Everton, albeit awkwardly, but more often than not it would be a suicidal approach unless Adam can greatly improve the defensive side of his game.
All of which in the end makes it hard to imagine that Adam and Lucas will ever really have the chance to blossom as a midfield pairing unless Adam is able to adjust to a slightly more advanced position on the pitch instead of seeking to drop nearly level with the back four even when Lucas is already providing an outlet there. The contrasting dynamic between Lucas and Gerrard set next to Lucas and Adam, with the latter looking disappointingly static at times by comparison, also hints at a possible source of Liverpool's less than stellar play in recent weeks, especially against opponents that didn't allow Lucas the freedom to wander from his shielding position with any regularity.
Perhaps more ominously, it also suggests that returning to a three man midfield now that Steven Gerrard is fit won't do much to improve that fluidity in midfield: no matter if he's paired or in a trio, Adam likely needs to shift his approach to fit in at a club where he isn't the star of the show. Fortunately, this is just the sort of time that the old cliche of players needing time to settle might have some truth to it—or at least when there's reason to hope there's some truth to it.
By RedNigerian via FootyLounge.
*The corners shown in Adam's chalkboard are not included in his open play passing numbers.