Analysed: How Lucas is becoming crucial to Klopp's Liverpool
Many thought that with the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, Lucas might find himself on the outside and ostracised at Liverpool. Questions about whether he could adapt to the German tactician's methods were somewhat validly posed.
But in typical Lucas fashion, the Brazilian has shown just why you can never write him off. He's been absolutely enormous since Klopp's installation, with his fighting spirit, energy and ferocity in midfield embodying his manager's philosophy brilliantly.
And in Liverpool's colossal clash against Chelsea, before that untimely defeat to Palace, he was once again a commanding presence in the centre of the park – even if he was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch. It was as if the rather unsatisfactory time he endured under Brendan Rodgers had been completely forgotten.
Sometimes in my position you make fouls, more to stop the game. I think it was a good decision from the referee, he controlled the game very well
As ever, Lucas worked his socks off for the Reds. When Liverpool were defending, the combative midfielder set the tone beautifully for his side by flying into tackes, pressing relentlessly and tracking back doggedly, as the Brazilian's physicality successfully unsettled the Blues.
While his aggressive approach almost cost him and his side dearly – he almost got himself sent off for a rash challenge on Ramires that could've easily earned him a second yellow – his manager still would have been impressed with his unyielding desire and intensity to get stuck in.
After all, this kind of essential work in the midfield battlezone is often what can be the difference between stopping or allowing a goalscoring opportunity.
"Sometimes in my position you make fouls, more to stop the game. I think it was a good decision from the referee, he controlled the game very well," Lucas mused after the game.
A football brain
Lucas, contrary to popular belief and perception, is actually a very intelligent footballer, which he demonstrated emphatically with his astute positioning and covering of his team-mates at Stamford Bridge.
From his right-sided central midfield post, the 28-year-old showed his underrated situational and spatial awareness. This was best illustrated when he'd smartly notice his midfield partner, Emre Can, pushing forward to press the ball carrier (see below video).
In such cases, instead of focusing solely on what he was doing, he'd cleverly shift across and cover in behind Can to ensure one of Chelsea's gifted attackers couldn't exploit this space. Plus, in doing so, an otherwise vacant passing lane now became blocked.
Importantly, Can would return the favour, as the pair showed off their terrific, and continually burgeoning, understanding that will surely only get better with time.
Moreover, in Chelsea's controlled build-up passages, Lucas used his superb vision and concentration to pick up the darting movements of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Oscar whenever they ventured into his designated area of operation.
He never allowed them an easy passage to meander into the space surrounding him, and wreak havoc. However, when they did obtain possession in close proximity to him, the 28-year-old pounced like a tiger to bring the pressure.
Nathaniel Clyne would have also been thankful to Lucas, for his team-mate regularly shuttled over to cover the Liverpool right-back when he motored forward, crucially ensuring Chelsea couldn't easily break down Liverpool's right on the counter.
Giving the option
The subtlety Lucas brought on the defensive end notably transferred over to the attacking side of his game too, where he could be regularly seen taking up excellent positions in which to receive possession.
Lucas effectively mixed his insatiable appetite to work for his team-mates with his ability to find space around the Chelsea attackers. Using his spatial awareness, he craftily buzzed laterally about the pitch, always looking to present his centre-halves with an option in their attempts to pass out from the back.
Once in possession, Liverpool's all-action midfield lynchpin used his underappreciated passing ability to kickstart many of his team's attacking incursions, and assist in keeping hold of the ball. It seems to have been forgotten that Lucas was actually a very attack-minded midfielder when he signed from Gremio back in 2008, so it's not entirely surprising how strong this aspect of his game is.
Vitally, his manager acknowledges his strength in this regard, and recently defended his player by saying: "You don’t think he can play balls on the right and left side? He can."
It's no coincidence that he's managed to rack up 63 passes per game on average in the Premier League this season, at a solid success rate of 86%. Crisp, incisive and accomplished are all accurate ways to describe his distribution.
Combine this with his capacity to make clear, concise decisions and it's easy to see why Klopp sees Lucas as a key component of his Liverpool outfit. Rewind back to the German's magnificent Borussia Dortmund side from a few years ago, and it's hard not to draw some comparison to Lucas's current role and the one undertaken back then by Sebastian Kehl.
All in all, Lucas's outstanding work against last season's champions again underlined his importance to Liverpool.
Stats do the talking
His average of 5.8 tackes per game remarkably ranks him first within Europe's top five leagues
His numbers accordingly depict his all-round impact this season. His average of 5.5 tackes per game remarkably ranks him top for this statistic in Europe's top five leagues. He's also completed 2 interceptions pg and won 60% of his aerial duels (not bad for a man who's only 5ft 8in tall).
Now the longest-serving member of the squad, the leadership and example he's setting for his younger, less experienced colleagues must inspire them – and not just on the pitch either. Young team-mate Joe Gomez recently gave thanks to the Brazilian for his support in helping him deal with the devastating ACL injury that has wrecked his first season at Anfield.
"From the start he came in and said to me: 'I’ve done this before, I know what you’re going through'," the teenager told the Liverpool Echo. "Lucas has been brilliant in terms of giving me advice and keeping me positive. Every day I see him he talks me through this stage of the injury and how it went for him.
Lucas has been brilliant in terms of giving me advice and keeping me positive. Everything he’s told me so far about what to expect has been spot on
"Everything he’s told me so far about what to expect has been spot on. Seeing how Lucas has been able to get back playing at the highest level spurs me on."
He may not be the Merseyside outfit's most glamorous player, but his dedication and willingness to fight for his side have mean he has become an invaluable asset of Klopp's new-look Reds side.
In an attack-focused modern game, elite defensive midfielders are becoming increasingly hard to find. Liverpool should be thankful they have one of the good ones.
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