With Lucas out for the rest of the season and Steven Gerrard out until January at the very earliest, Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish face an extended run with their two best midfielders sidelined. The club reacted by recalling Jonjo Shelvey on Wednesday, though few expect he's returning to regular starting minutes at Liverpool despite his success on loan with Blackpool, and even fewer would see him as a direct replacement for Lucas in any case.
Still, it's one more player for Dalglish to work with as he looks to Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Jordan Henderson, and now Shelvey as the key pieces with which to reassemble midfield. Perhaps, too, the biggest question isn't who replaces Lucas but whether his injury leads to a shift in formation from the preferred 4222 that has been seen more often than not since Dalglish's return to one with three in the middle. For many, the obvious answer would likely be to play Spearing alongside Adam and Henderson to make up for the loss, but that would almost certainly mean Andy Carroll would become a near permanent fixture on the bench over the next six matches.
Dalglish may have repeatedly talked of the needs of the team coming ahead of any personal desires for playing time, and he's shown a willingness to leave Carroll out of the starting eleven on numerous occasions, but if Carroll's to have any hope of coming good at Liverpool it's hard to imagine a worse way forward than shifting to a formation that quite nearly guarantees he won't start during the club's busy December run. On the other hand, to pair Charlie Adam with only one other player—even if the Scot has shown an improved workrate and defensive effort in recent weeks—seems a recipe for exposing the defense and curtailing the ability of Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique to get forward as often as they have so far this season.
The data may be limited, but the only occasion Dalglish has been without Lucas in the league since last January was against Norwich City in November, and though he stuck with a midfield duo then, it was very much to mixed results. On the day, both Adam and Gerrard got forward effectively at times, but neither showed a great deal of awareness when it came to covering for the other's attacking forays. This lack of balance in the pairing meant that when Adam gave up possession cheaply in the 60th minute, Norwich was left to run at an exposed Liverpool defense and score their equalising goal.
And so now Dalglish is left with the difficult choice of just how to replace a player who at times has seemed to do the work of two men. Does he slot in Spearing, a straight swap introducing Lucas' feisty but less positionally sound backup, and hope it's enough for Liverpool to come out ahead against mid-table opposition without having to change formation? Or should both Spearing and Henderson play alongside likely lock Charlie Adam in a three man midfield that seems the best fit for the talent on hand but means dropping players elsewhere for it to work?
Then again, perhaps instead of Spearing it could be Henderson who moves inside to partner Adam in a midfield duo. After all, many see a more central role as Henderson's future, and Dalglish clearly had no qualms about starting the young acquisition over more proven options from the day he arrived at Liverpool. Beyond that there are less likely options, though they still aren't outside the realm of possibility: Will Shelvey surprise everybody by starting ever match in December? Might Liverpool switch to three at the back for an extended run? Would Dalglish be willing to risk tinkering with what seems a settled and confident backline by shifting a defender into midfield?
No outfield player has started as many games for Liverpool as Lucas has since Kenny Dalglish returned to the club nearly a year ago, which means there's almost no way to tell ahead of time how the coaching staff will choose to deal with his extended absence. While we wait for Monday's match against Fulham, though, we'd like to know what you think is the best way for Dalglish and the club to deal with the unfortunate situation.