With the season coming to a close, it is natural for questions to be asked about the next step for Liverpool. Although the focus is very much on securing a place in the top four, the reality for some players is that their time at the club is coming to an end. Players in the first-team squad that aren't getting regular football will be subject to whispers surrounding where they will fit in with plans for the summer transfer window, and Lucas Leiva is familiar with such speculation.
The 30-year-old, who has featured in defence and midfield under Jürgen Klopp this season, had much to say about his future. He has never clocked below 1000 league minutes in his previous nine seasons at the club even in injury-hit campaigns, but the veteran has experienced just 842 minutes this season in 19 appearances. While he should break that barrier once again, his nine league starts in his tenth season are less than half the 21 he earned in 2015/16. Despite making a further seven appearances in the domestic cup competitions to take his total to a respectable 26, Lucas is clearly a squad player.
“Listen, I would love to have the right answer for you, the 100% answer I’d say,” Lucas said after being asked about his future at the club. “I have got one more year left after this, but I think I need to just concentrate on the next five games. I have been here long enough and if the time comes for me to go somewhere else I think I will leave with the feeling that I did everything I could.
“I don’t really know what will happen. I just need to focus on the last five games. The last few games I have played I feel very good. I have played centre-back and midfield, so I give some options to the manager and when he needs me I always try to deliver.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that happens with everyone. So, listen, there is no doubt about my commitment to Liverpool. I just need to wait until the end of the season, work hard and make a decision together with the club.
“Yes, (I’ll speak with Klopp). I think we will agree something. Good for both of us. I would love to give the answer 100% but unfortunately I cannot give it.”
Injuries to Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren have given Lucas a chance in defence, sometimes at the expense of Ragnar Klavan. Mamadou Sakho’s exile to Crystal Palace after a stint with the under-23 squad also opened a path to minutes that may no longer be available next season. He has started three of the last four league games in midfield due to the absence of captain Jordan Henderson and vice-pressident (yes, you read that correctly) Adam Lallana. When everyone is fit, Henderson may find it hard to dislodge Emre Can from the side—underlining the competition for places that will further intensify with any additions in the summer.
Liverpool are looking to increase quality in those positions ahead of a campaign with European football and will be looking to develop the likes of Marko Grujić as well as Ovie Ejaria. Lucas may not have the physical qualities to press and make sprints like younger players, but Sebastian Kehl was in a similar position at Borussia Dortmund. He brought experience, leadership, intelligence, and support on and off the pitch. If the squad gets stronger, will Lucas get an opportunity to contribute on the field in Liverpool colours?
“I have to analyse,” the Liverpool stalwart continued. “I am getting to the stage of my career where I think I can help a lot, off the pitch of course, but on the pitch as well. Playing time (will play a part), I wouldn’t like to just be around.
“I am 30, I am not 35 or 36. I feel I have many years that I can still play at the top level. I need to see what is best for me and the club and then I am sure we will make a decision together.
“The commitment will always be there, I will always be keen to help, but now I just need to focus on the next five games and at the end of the season the club will have a better idea in terms of moving forward and what players, game time.”
Lucas ruled out a return to Brazil and moved onto his ambition to “finish the season on a high” with just five games left. Champions League football will provide an extra competition at a high level where the goal must be to qualify out of the group and make it to the knock-out stages. Liverpool had never won away to a Tony Pulis side in the Premier League, but Jürgen Klopp had never lost to Tony Pulis. Klopp maintained his record and broke new ground at the Hawthorns as West Bromwich Albion succumbed to a trick out of their own playbook with an unlikely assist from Lucas.
From James Milner reminding everyone that the senior players let Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold down against Stoke City to Lucas Leiva stepping in during tense and tight games, experience can play a role when combined with the right quality. Lucas played his role in a successive away win but stressed that Sunday was “not just about three points” for a team that still needs to improve.
“It depends on us. It is in our hands,” he said. “We know teams will play each other and drop points and it is impossible to win all the games. We just have to keep going and a win like this just gives you a real boost. It is a difficult place to come.
“Many teams come here and drop points and we managed to win and we managed to keep a clean sheet. We defended set-pieces very well so it is not just about three points.
“A lot of things that we did were positive. There are still things to improve on but it was a little step in the right direction.”
If Lucas stays beyond the summer, his playing role will be to provide depth in midfield and defence. He turns 31 in January with a contract that expires at the end of next season and could very well stick around for his 11th season on Merseyside. While there have been opportunities to leave, Lucas has stuck around to prove he can still do a job for Merseyside’s finest. There's also the matter of a testimonial, but first, let's listen to Lucas and focus on the games ahead.