While Liverpool continue to flounder in the final third, they’ve looked a lot tighter at the back of late and the reason for this new-found sturdiness is anything but a coincidence.
The need for the Reds to play a midfielder schooled in the art of screening the defence has been enormous for a long time and Brendan Rodgers finally acknowledged this last weekend in their 1-0 win over Stoke.
This was the first Premier League game since their mid-September loss at West Ham in which Lucas Pezzini Leiva was pitched in from the start.
Since the Brazilian anchorman’s return to the domestic fray, Liverpool have conceded just once, while two of their three clean sheets kept at Anfield, the latest of which being in their goalless draw with Sunderland last time out, have come about when he has started.
His inclusion meant that Steven Gerrard was omitted from the starting line up for the second home game in succession, suggesting Rodgers no longer regards the skipper as his side’s strongest defensive midfielder.
The Kop legend’s dropping against Stoke sparked much media furore, though he returned to the team for their midweek win at Leicester, where he shared the responsibility of protecting the defence with Lucas.
Considering that this was an away game, increased importance was placed on solidity, but when the onus was on Liverpool to make things happen at home to Sunderland, only one sitting midfielder was required and Gerrard found himself playing an ancillary role to the Brazilian practitioner.
The 27-year-old’s defensive stats are that of a master holder of the midfield too.
He averages 3.7 tackles per outing, as well as 2.7 interceptions, but his talents don’t stop at possession regaining.
Lucas is also proficient when it comes to retaining the orb too, completing 84.3 per cent of his passes, with 47.8 made per match on average.
Clearly in possession of all of the assets a defensive midfielder must have, many of the issues Liverpool have succumbed to in recent weeks could’ve been averted if Rodgers had been picking Lucas.
The Reds are 13/20 to prevail in the must-win Champions League tie with Basel and they’ll stand a better chance of achieving their aim with the Gremio academy graduate in the side.