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It's All About the Group

Lucas Leiva has had more than his share of adversity to overcome but as this spirit shocking campaign enters its final three games, the midfielder is back in first team contention and enthused by the "togetherness, character and quality" in Brendan Rodgers' group.

"Ahahahahahaha!! Your new walk is magnificent, Raheem..."
"Ahahahahahaha!! Your new walk is magnificent, Raheem..."
Michael Regan

To begin, let me share a moment of epiphanic wonder that I experienced on Monday afternoon, a full 24 hours after the victory over Norwich City. In an attempt to take nothing for granted, like so many other poor long-suffering souls, your scribbler has not really basked fully in the achievements of Brendan Rodgers' team to date. Nothing's won yet, after all, and some of us are old school like that, primarily because we're old and, y'know, work in a school.

You see, the enormity of what may yet be attained is so overwhelming and the attendant anxiety is so potent that many Reds have singularly failed to revel in the fact that Liverpool will play in next season's Champions League. Think of that. Allow yourself a moment of satisfaction. We, who have endured such mirthless dispiriting days, littered with horrors like the threat of administration and the harrowing reality of Roy Hodgson in the Anfield dugout, can once more enjoy our Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

Come September, when you hear the parping pomposity of Tony Britten's Champions League theme emanating from the next room, you will not have to wince and quell the wave of nausea that accompanies watching other teams succeed in European action because Liverpool Football Club will be back in the group stages of the continent's premier competition. This is good. This is very good indeed and due, primarily, to the remarkable feat of legerdemain performed by Brendan Rodgers with essentially the same squad that finished seventh last season.

The last time Liverpool flirted with the top of the table in a realistic way, Lucas Leiva was a dewy eyed stripling, struggling to get a first team run out in what was arguably the finest midfield in the country. The intervening years have seen the Brazilian show a remarkable mental fortitude and tenacity to defeat the twin afflictions of unpopularity and debilitating injury. His travails have been well documented and need no further morbid exegesis here.

To his eternal credit, Lucas emerged as a central operator of great distinction, a crowd favourite and a player worthy of his place in the exclusive Selecao. Since his peak, during one of the lowest points for the club, the likable midfielder has once again been plagued by injury and unable to be the key figure that his manager would no doubt like him to be.

With a World Cup looming and Liverpool flying at the top of the Premier League, Leiva has missed much of the action and his rustiness showed on Sunday. All of the things that were sources of irritation for observers -- his lack of pace, his tendency to slow the play, his recklessness in conceding fouls in dangerous areas -- were on display more garishly than the work-rate, tenacity and pressing that will always characterise his contributions. Lack of game time -- this was the Brazilian's first start since January -- means that this most admirable of players has probably all but given up hope of returning to his native country as part of Luis Felipe Scolari's side but it is heartening to hear the typically upbeat and effusive way he speaks about Liverpool's remaining fixtures.

"It's fantastic," insisted Leiva. "I said last week, I have been here for seven years and this is probably the first time that we really feel we have a chance. The last few years have been so difficult for us and the fans as well. We still haven't done the job, but one thing we have achieved is the Champions League – it was the main target for us at the beginning of the season – with no qualifiers, straight to the group stage. We will have more time in pre-season. One target is achieved, now we can carry on and think about the title."

Lucas is talking about the title. This has made it real for me in a way that all of the histrionic Sky bluster and paper sensationalism has yet to do. Some misanthropists have almost revelled in the I told you so emptiness of Leiva's inability to recapture the form he showed prior to his 2012 injury, the form they very grudgingly admired. Be under no illusions, such dour naysayers will also be ready with their torches and pitchforks should Brendan Rodgers ever slip from the perch he is building for himself. So full of bile and self-righteous indignation are such types that they can scarcely call themselves fans. They are spiteful miserabilists, whose most visceral thrill is the hollow smugness of foretelling woe.

These people are a mystery to this scrawler. In a world brim-full of misery and laden with ample cause for angst, they seek out more. Frankly, they can go to hell. If Lucas Leiva is in receipt of a Premier League winner's medal in a few weeks time there will be few footballers whose talent and tenacity will deserve that bauble more. Lucas will know that, on merit, he is probably no longer a starter when Rodgers has a full squad and that he will likely drop out should Daniel Sturridge be fit for the game against Chelsea. He is, however, a man of integrity and character and his words about the spirit of cameraderie within Rodgers' group are heartening and uplifting.

"It's one of the key things," he said. "Togetherness, character and quality as well. The goals we scored today showed that we have the understanding. The players have the understanding between each other. It just shows that we are going the right way. Three games to go and hopefully we can keep this good run going. If we win the three games, we will be champions. We knew how important this game was, especially after the results for City and Chelsea. People are talking about the pressure that we are having to play with, but I think we showed again that we have a lot of confidence. It doesn't matter who plays, the team is doing well. That's the main thing. We got the three points."

That's damn right, Lucas. That's damn right.

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