Everyone knew it was coming, but that doesn't detract from Aston Villa's efforts on Saturday night. They still had to press, still had to harry, still had to take the match to a side that was 9-0-1 in front of their home supporters. They did all that and more in an impressive first-half effort, completely dominating Liverpool and deservedly taking a two-goal lead. Only two seemed unfair, and even more unjust was the fact that the hosts managed to cut the deficit in half just before the break on their first real chance of the match.
The second half was a different story, however, and while Villa supporters will rightfully feel aggrieved about the manner in which Liverpool equalized--or rather, the manner in which they won their equalizer--nobody can argue that Brendan Rodgers' side were vastly improved from the first half to the second, and a healthy dose of that improvement was down to the addition of Lucas into Liverpool's midfield.
It's been a tricky season for the Brazilian, who's seemingly at full health for the first time since his extended layoff. Inconsistencies and impatience have marred his play at times, especially early in the season when he earned five yellow cards and a one-match ban for accumulation in quick succession, but his presence is often a calming one in Liverpool's midfield, and that was again the case against Villa before another worrying knee injury forced him to come off after just twenty minutes.
Rodgers provided a brief update in his post-match comments:
"He clashed knees with an opponent, so we'll just see how he is. He just felt a little click in his knee. Hopefully it's not too serious. We'll not know for the next 24 to 48 hours."
That's an awfully large hopefully given the impact Lucas had, as he stabilized the midfield and immediately aided Liverpool in gaining more control over the match. Whereas the first half was a disorganized, overrun mess, the approach for the first twenty-odd minutes of the second half was assured and assertive, and it was clear that Lucas' presence had a big say in the change.
For whatever reason it's become fashionable once again to slate Lucas' performances while ignoring or downplaying the deficiencies of others in the squad, but today provided a perfect example of how important his inclusion can be. Ideally his removal was only precautionary, and the time between now and Everton's visit for the derby will be more than enough rest and recuperation.
And that it also serves as a reminder of his importance to the balance of the squad, regardless of whether or not the hive mind disagrees (and is also wildly inaccurate).