Why Lucas Leiva Will Be Liverpool's Defining Player of 2013

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  Lucas Leiva of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Liverpool at the Boleyn Ground on December 9, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Before being named in the Liverpool starting XI to take on Southampton on Dec. 1, Lucas Leiva had played just 71 minutes of Premier League football in 2012.

The knee injury sustained in the Carling Cup win at Chelsea in November 2011 ruled him out of the remainder of the 2011/12 campaign, with his comeback this season restricted to just three-quarters of the loss at West Bromwich Albion on the opening day of the season, before a thigh problem in the warm-up before the following game against Manchester City. He tried to run it off but failed.

The blow meant that Brendan Rodgers would have to do without the Brazilian international for the majority of the first half of his debut Liverpool campaign, a significant blow, given that the manager had been singing the praises of the holding midfielder throughout pre-season and claiming just what an important cog he was going to be in his Reds machine.

Liverpool’s 2010/11 player of the season has been eased back into the fold since that Southampton match. He’s started Liverpool’s last four league games but has not finished any of them.

The belief has to be that he is getting stronger and stronger all the time, and as January rolls around, and the Reds embark on what they hope will be successful runs in both the FA Cup and Europa League alongside good form in the Premier League, then the importance of their midfield anchor will only become more and more apparent.

Rodgers can boast a selection of midfielders that the majority of clubs in the Premier League would die for, with Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin, Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey and Suso all capable of playing through the centre, but none of them can do Lucas’s job in the same quiet, efficient manner that the Brazilian himself can.

Allen was the man picked to fill the Lucas-shaped hole in the team that injury had created, and although the Welshman often performed admirably, he seemed to grow a little weary towards the end of his spell just in front of the back four, with his neat, passing game more suited to shifting a little further forward in midfield and looking to keep things ticking over as his side goes in search of goals.

Gerrard, too, suffered from the lack of Lucas by his side, and the captain will be eager to see a long run in the team for the Brazilian as the Reds go into a 2013 which is likely to see them start to mould together following what has often been a messy 2012.

This is still largely a new team and it is certainly a new manager―and it is only going to get even newer early on in January if transfer stories are to be believed (BBC Sport)―but the platform that their holding midfielder provides for them is sure to be crucial to Liverpool’s hopes of progression into the new year.

Keeping Lucas fit and helping others fire the bullets is sure to be key to Liverpool’s and Rodgers’ hopes in 2013, and with no one quite knowing just how much this group of players and their manager can achieve just yet, then that platform will need to be sturdy and secure. Lucas provides just that.

His presence is sure to aid Allen, gee-up Gerrard and help all of the other midfielders in and around the side in all competitions as Rodgers looks to continue implementing his style of football on the club.

Having Lucas fit and available at all times during 2013 will make that an awful lot easier for the Northern Irishman, but he will also be determined not to push the midfield man too hard as he strives to reach his goals.

He’ll just be happy that Lucas can play more than 71 minutes now and everyone else should be too.