Why Lucas Leiva Shouldn't Return to Liverpool Lineup vs. West Brom

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:  Lucas of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield on August 17, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers hasn't had the necessity of altering his starting lineup too much so far this season, with the team picking up points without playing at their best level and sitting in third place in the Premier League.

Their last few matches has seen the shapeif not the playersaltered, though, with Liverpool playing a 3-4-1-2 system including in the 2-2 draw at Newcastle United last weekend.

That game did see two changes in personnel by virtue of necessity, with the injured Jose Enrique replaced at left-back and Jordan Henderson moving infield from the right to take the place of the suspended Lucas Leiva.

It is this latter change in particular which will have been of interest to many watchers (including Rodgers himself), and the argument has to be for Lucas to stay out of the team for the forthcoming game against West Bromwich Albion at Anfield.


Rodgers' Order of Merit

The first thing we need to discuss is Rodgers' preference of keeping the team the same whenever possible, with his established meritocracy: the shirt is yours to lose.

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In other words, start in the team, and you'll stay there until your performances dictate otherwise. Regardless of stature or perceived ability, it's the actual performances and work-rate which dictate whether a player should come in or out of team selection.

Of course there will always be the odd exception, such as captain Steven Gerrard or star forward Luis Suarez, but as vice-captain Daniel Agger is finding out right now, those exceptions are few and far between.

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Agger suffered an injury which kept him out, and the defenders who are in place of him in the team have not done anything to warrant being dropped.

Regardless of whether Agger himself did anything wrong beforehand, there appears no compelling reason for the boss to remove any of those in place right now, so Agger has to wait.

The same should now apply to Lucas, who was suspended after receiving five yellow cards in just seven games.


Henderson the All-Rounder

Next up is the man who took Lucas' place, Jordan Henderson.

Having featured in every minute for the Reds this season, Henderson has already played in at least three roles in the team, including at wing-back and finally in his preferred central midfield position.

Henderson has had a good season so far, showing improvement from last year once again and proving that his mere athleticism and stamina is almost indispensable to a team who have technique and tactical acumen but too little physicality at times.

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There is also the fact that despite being important as a versatile player, Henderson would obviously benefit from a run in one position or another—and now is obviously the time to see if he can perform adequately and consistently in the middle of the park.

He's a midfielder, but is he a top-four midfielder? Liverpool will only find out by playing him there, and this mini run of games should go some way to determining whether he can be one or not.

Arsenal and Everton follow soon afterward; Liverpool need to quickly establish their best and most in-form pairing in the middle.


Does Lucas Deserve a Recall?

On that last point, Lucas is not in form. A recall to the Brazil squad of late shouldn't indicate as much, either. Phil Scolari may well want a look at him at close quarters, but there is little comparison at present between Lucas and the likes of Paulinho or Ramires.

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Lucas' tactical decision-making in a key area of the pitch is not always up to scratch, and the myth over his tackling seems to persist despite him losing a third of all his challenges this season and having committed 50 percent more fouls this season than anyone else in the squad.

And, against West Brom at home—and presumably with three centre-backs playing again—should Liverpool need Lucas to sit and break up play?

Surely the more dynamic option of Henderson and Gerrard, both capable of alternating this defensive arrangement with pushing on to support the attack, would be the better option?

Liverpool's approach play has been sadly lacking in tempo and diversity at times this season, despite their lofty position, and giving the two English midfielders another run-out together could help both the fluidity of the team and the threat on West Brom's defence.

The decision rests with Rodgers, but he's set his own precedent of sorts over the past 15 months with players who lose their place in the team and who aren't up to scratch.

Liverpool don't have an abundance of central midfielders to choose from for the role, but Joe Allen and Luis Alberto might both hope to be involved in some capacity, too. For Lucas, right now, it might be a case of wait your turn—and pick up significantly when that chance rolls around again.


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