There's a common misconception amongst too many football fans. A belief that even if deploying a defensive, holding midfielder may be necessary to counter a strong opponent, against a weaker side it amounts to a waste of a player. That ideally, against a weaker side, another attacking player would be out on the pitch.
One only needs to look at the performance put in by Lucas against Aston Villa yesterday to see how wrong that is. With the rest of the team—bar centre halves Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho but including Emre Can—often pushed high up the pitch, his ability to read the game defensively and cover for his teammates was even more important.
So to was his awareness and ability, once on the ball, to then release those teammates quickly, providing the foundation for many of Liverpool's best breaks and attacking moves. Far from hindering the side, his screening and ability to set the tempo in the passing game was integral to Liverpool scoring more than one goal for the first time this season.
All told, he made 11 tackles. James Milner, Liverpool's next top tackler, made six. Aston Villa's top tackler made just five. Lucas also made a pair interceptions and a defensive clearance. With the ball, he made a jaw-dropping 108 passes with a 92.6% completion rate. Coutinho and Sakho made 73 and 72 respectively; Villa's Ashley Westwood had 53.
Liverpool had other stars. Coutinho was energetic and hard working in a deep role. Milner bounced back from a trio of poor performances. Daniel Sturridge impressed massively in front of goal and looks to have shaken off any rust. Alberto Moreno was again a force down the left. The foundation for those performances, though, was provided by Lucas.
It was a perfect example of just how important a holding player can be, no matter the perceived level of the opposition. It was also the sort of performance to make one wonder just how it could have been that a player like Lucas has so often seemed not to be in the manager's long-term plans.
Video by MrBoywunder