Why Brazil Are Mistaken in Calling Up Liverpool's Lucas Leiva

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Why Brazil Are Mistaken in Calling Up Liverpool's Lucas Leiva
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Liverpool's Lucas Leiva has earned himself another chance to impress for the Selecao, some two years after making his last appearance for Brazil.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, experimenting with his squad ahead of the 2014 World Cup, has handed the Brazilian a recall ahead of friendlies against South Korea and Zambia in October.

The decision has provoked quite the response on social networks, with many expressing their disbelief that the Reds' holding midfielder had actually been selected for the squad and others jumping to his defence.

It seems that Lucas still enjoys a stellar reputation from the days before two successive injuries that ruled him out for much of 2012. 

But based on his performances since his return from injury, that reputation is somewhat undeserved. According to Squawka, Lucas has a pass completion rate of 89 percent, winning 69 percent of his tackles and making an average of three interceptions a game in 2013/14.

Straightaway, what stands out is his poor successful tackle ratio. Out of 17 players to make more than 10 tackles this season, Lucas' 69 percent puts him in 15th place, surpassing only Everton's Leon Osman and Aston Villa's Fabian Delph.

Lucas fares better in interceptions, coming in fifth with 15. But he is still eclipsed by Delph, Jose Canas, Ahmed Elmohamady and Michael Carrick.

But of course, statistics can be misleading and as B/R's Sam Tighe points out in his EPL myths, certain statistics has helped obscure Lucas' subpar performances this season.

So let us take a look at the player himself.

 

Positional Indiscipline

For those Liverpool fans aware of Lucas' limitations, this is the single most exasperating sight when it comes to the Reds midfielder.

The Brazilian has an alarming tendency to rush out of position and leaving acres of space behind for opponents to exploit. Now, it must be said that having the immobile Steven Gerrard as a partner does not help matters, but by now Lucas should already be used to this and take it into account.

He doesn't.

Lucas darts forward in the hopes of intercepting the ball, failing to realise that if he misses the interception, the Liverpool defence is left wide open to an attack through the middle.

This is an example from Liverpool's 1-0 win over Aston Villa in August:

In the second half, with Liverpool defending their lead, Villa start to dominate the game and begin to put pressure on the Reds defence. Karim El Ahmadi is about to receive the ball.

Lucas sees the threat and closes the gap between himself and El Ahmadi. So far, so good. 

But the Brazilian gets far too close and attempts to tackle El Ahmadi instead of standing off and forcing the Moroccan to play a pass backward.

As a result, El Ahmadi turns Lucas and plays a pass inside to the advancing Ashley Westwood and Villa have a opportunity to run straight at the Liverpool defence.

A rush of blood to the head from Lucas has handed the opposition an opportunity to exploit the space left behind and Liverpool were fortunate that nothing came of the attack.

Next time, however, they may not be so lucky.

 

Midfield Runners

Another major issue for the Reds midfielder, one that his opponents have already exploited this season as B/R's Karl Matchett explains in his analysis of the Reds' draw against Swansea City: Lucas often fails to track runners from midfield when defending, allowing players such as Jonjo Shelvey to gain an advantage with a late run into the box unmarked.

Shelvey's assist in the buildup to Michu's second-half equaliser should be a warning sign for Scolari, as it demonstrates Lucas' lack of defensive instincts as he once again is dragged out of position.

But it was the first goal that illustrated Lucas' failure to track back and help deal with Shelvey's run, which ended with the ball in the net.

Lucas fails to move at all when Shelvey miskicks the ball and is left utterly stranded when the Swansea midfielder advances into the box.

There's a gaping space between Mamadou Sakho, who is standing off Shelvey, and the left-back Jose Enrique. 

While Enrique could be better positioned, Lucas' lack of action to cover that space is alarming and the Brazilian was left ball-watching the entire move.

 

Lacks Physicality

Through no fault of his own, Lucas simply does not have the physical stature or the pace of his peers in the Premier League.

This can, of course, be overcome with excellent positional discipline and defensive instincts, but as pointed out earlier, this is not something Lucas has in abundance. But a combination of poor defensive ability and lack of strength or pace makes for a very poor anchorman prone to being overrun.

A perceived inability to cope with powerful centre midfielders has been a highlight of Liverpool's problems this season.

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Southampton's Victor Wanyama gleefully took advantage of Lucas' lack of presence to run roughshod over Liverpool's defence, allowing Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin to operate unchallenged.

All of this paints a rather poor picture of Lucas' ability to play in defensive midfield.

So why exactly has Scolari elected to call up the Brazilian, particularly ahead of far more deserving candidates such as Manchester City's Fernandinho, Tottenham's Sandro or even FC Porto's Fernando?

Some will argue that players can and do play better for their national team than for their club side, but Lucas has not been called up for well over two years.

And any good performances against South Korea and, in particular, Zambia, should not be considered as proof that Lucas is good enough to go to Brazil 2014.

At this moment in time, Lucas should have been left to focus on his club form before a call-up to the Selecao.

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