Admit it, Lucas Leiva bores you. Not once in those moments with a ball at your feet, where you are attempting a pale facsimile of Saturdays gone by, have you ever pulled a Lucas. What would that even look like? A slightly underweighted sideways pass to cycle possession? An awkward defensive posturing to make sure Coutinho doesn't get himself killed by that big French dude? When you read the words Brazilian blonde this has never been what you think of, has it?
From the toes of his team-color-scheme Nikes, up to the Supercuts clipped tips of his blasé locks, Lucas Leiva has never provided you with a single thing to fantasize over. Luckily for you, what the talented Mr. Leiva does provide is a whole foods diet of a game. He is that side of blanched mustard greens over cayenne quinoa with roasted turnips - all about keeping you balanced.
In the summer of 2007, the regrettably coifed, but prodigiously gifted Rafa Benitez signed up a 20 year old, blue-eyed Brazilian attacking midfielder who had just won player of the year in a country that knows a thing or two about producing players of the year. In short, he had signed a guy capable of this sort of thing (excellent first touch there, Ryan, thanks for playing). He was to learn from Steven, and Xabi, and Javier, and he was to be that next generation of world class Liverpool midfielder. And that is precisely what he became. Just in the best, most ironic way possible.
Circular, familiar trodding. Receiving and recycling. Subdued distillation of a perceived threat. Calm and forgettable, but well measured and critical. These are all components of a vintage Lucas defensive midfield performance. At times it seems like the only reason the guy ever actually breaks into a sprint is when he has to catch up to an angle so that he can slow down and start jogging in circles again. Like a bird of prey encroaching on its elevensies. Not a one of us has ever even known what it means to read a game that way, not in our most memorable weekend pelada. No one's ever screamed at the top of their lungs "BOO-yaka-SHAH!!!" while subtly shutting down a passing lane.
So, for the longest time, from the scattershot perspective of fans, it just looked like not what Masch does, or not what Stevie does. And what we needed in the Gary MacAllister/Didi Hamann Memorial Area of the Pitch is some blood and thunder. Leaving a foot in. Literally putting one's ass on the line for the team. Thankfully, and against our worst judgement, Lucas won us over. We realized what should have been apparent to us all along - Lucas Leiva was one of the best defensive midfielders in the world's beautiful game.
Gone were the clumsily long locks, gone was the force feeding of attacking responsibility. What was left was pure, clinical, professional defensive midfielding. When Uncle Woy and King Kenny rolled through town, Lucas was an indispensable cog in a Liverpool midfield that midfielded and defense that defended, and never mind some of the other bits that didn't quite come off for those sides. Mid-20s, form of his life, settled, loved, and throwing millionaire matte monopoly parties left and right, Lucas had arrived. Then he shredded the proverbial out of his knee.
Fanaticism is, by definition, an unbalanced art. In one moment the collective may be willing to declare everything about its obsession as the greatest of all time. Up until the moment when it is the most useless thing of all time. The truth is that to us ticket purchasing, jersey ironing, grain swilling souls who devote hours upon hours of our finite existence to this game, things are often only the greatest of right now. And what a pity. Because here we are, 3.5 or so years after Lucas' introduction to the prime of his athletic life (he is still 27 years old, by the way—same age as Messi, younger than Twinkle Toes) and we've all but written Lucas' Liverpool career off.
Whether in a begrudging manner (what does he do anyway?), or in a rueful one (would have been great had it not been for that devastating knee injury sapping his abilities), or in that familiar sort of Redsignation (you just can't stop the obvious January departure of Lucas Leiva from Liverpool Football Club). Well, around these parts, we're still willing to present another option: play Lucas as your single pivot defensive midfielder, Brendan. Just play him, for Fowler's sake.
As a couple turnt blokes once wrote: Like all good fruit, the balance of life is in the ripe and ruin. And without any semblance of balance, two seasons of life under Brendan Rodgers have brought Liverpool Football Club only unsustainable ripeness or determined ruin. Now, if you ask us, we'd take one particular bit of season ending silver ripeness followed by ten ruined seasons, and thank you sir may we have another? But we didn't actually win the 19th last year. So, as we are forced to scroll to the bottom half of the table for our points tally, we can't quite let Rodgers off the hook with the thoroughly meditated decision to ignore the sole specialist defensive midfield maestro at his disposal. At least not when we're this far short of eclipsing 100 goals scored this time around.
Since the Brendan Rodgers era began in 2012, Liverpool have seen Steven Gerrard lace his Fowler-blessed Predators over Red socks nearly 100 times. During the same spell we've seen Lucas fall just shy of 70 appearances. The majority of that time we've generally had one of:
- An awkward double-pivot deployment with Gerrard's rambling positional sense leaving Lucas' regrettable athletic prowess in a near constant bind.
- A Gerrard single-pivot deployment that asks the most from the worst of Steven Gerrard: Defensive Midfielder, while asking the most from the worst of Lucas Leiva: Attacking Midfielder.
- Arguably the best midfield deployment from any Brendan Rodgers lineup with Lucas as a foundational single pivot defensive midfielder and Henderson/Allen as his flankers.
- A whole helluva lot of Lucas' ass on the bench, while Stevie does his "Scouse Pirlo" routine with ALL THE GOLZ in front of him masking the now-crippling defensive issues.
Taken together, none of this has brought silver. However, one of these options has been disproportionately utilized during said silver drought. Miscasting a Captain Unremarkable at defensive midfield while benching and/or miscasting Lucas Leiva has been a midfield eviscerating characteristic of Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool sides. And yet, these flaws remain correctable so long as a man of Lucas' talents remains in Red.
The click-fizz of the off button has just followed on from a notably Lucasesque performance from our tenured Brazilian. The result was a regrettable 2-2 draw against an opportunistic Bulgarian side, Ludo's Regrets. It would be easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater here and ask for Brendan's head after another disappointing result. We do the opposite. We applaud Brendan Rodgers. We cheer for more. Finally, the gaffer turned to the lost ace in the hole: Lucas.
In a moment when he absolutely needed a calm, professional result, Rodgers turned to a calm professional. The midfield was trending to stable, folks, the midfield showed signs of balance. Rickie continued to demonstrate why you should be eating them beets, and things sorta got settled in a boring way for a while there. The result was disappointing, but it was the best kind of disappointing result in a season that strives to define the concept.
Was it a turning point in the year? If Brendan Rodgers continues with our Lucas as his single pivot general, then we'd expect a stable midfield base to Liverpool's lineup. On the back of a stable midfield base, we'd expect goals and points. And on the back of points, we'd expect smiles. Brazilian ones.