Liverpool have made Lucas Leiva available for £8M, and so far the holding midfielder has been linked to West Ham and Inter Milan. However, there had been some question as to whether his departure would lead to a replacement being brought in. It appears that one will not.
The club has been various linked with Asier Illarramendi and William Carvalho this summer, two very different sorts of holding players but nevertheless ones that would satisfy many Liverpool fans should Lucas depart the club as now appears likely. According to reports, though, a new signing would be unlikely.
Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce, who is widely regarded as having the inside scoop when it comes to what Brendan Rodgers is thinking, has reported that the Liverpool manager is "relaxed about his midfield options even without Lucas" and that he believes Emre Can and Joe Allen can fill the role.
This will be worrying for many Liverpool fans. Joe Allen may be a solid jack of all trades, but he hasn’t shown in his three seasons at the club he’s capable of reliably filling the holding role, and has seemed most useful as a versatile squad option, someone Rodgers likes and trusts and who won’t cause a fuss if he doesn’t play.
Emre Can, meanwhile, has been at his best for Liverpool when given license to roam, to drive forward as a box-to-box midfielder or as a third centre half who is well covered by his partners in the defence and midfield. When played as a dedicated holding player, as he was for Germany’s U21s this summer, he has been a liability.
He’s a physical player and strong in the tackle, but having the physical attributes to be a good holding midfielder isn’t the same as having the tactical and mental ones, and so far Can hasn’t shown he has those. He’s young and could surely develop them, but it could end up a steep learning curve for team and player.
It could also serve to curtail the side of his game he has shown most promise in so far, tying him to a role that—if he’s to do it well—won’t allow him the freedom to charge forward at will, instead asking him to focuson reading the game and maintaining a defensibly responsible position even when Liverpool have the ball.
The most obvious solution could be to dispense with a dedicated holding player and rely on three box-to-box midfielders. If Rodgers uses the 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree hinted at in pre-season, this could work, even if it introduces the potential for confusion and defensive errors as players constantly swap roles.
Regardless of all that, if Lucas departs over the next few weeks and no replacement is bought—if Rodgers is happy to sacrifice his one holding player and relies on a pair of players who aren’t positional specialists this season—it will only serve to heap more pressure on a manager already under a great deal of it.