Lucas Leiva's Return Gives Liverpool Options in Midfield at Crucial Time

Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 23:  Liverpool fans reach out to Lucas Leiva (L) and Steven Gerrard who enter the field during a Liverpool FC training session at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 23, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

The news that Lucas Leiva is fit and available for Liverpool ahead of their trip to Old Trafford on Sunday provides manager Brendan Rodgers with a rare luxury of having all of his midfielders available.

The Brazilian has declared himself fit, as per ESPN, after a medial knee ligament injury has kept him sidelined since January.

Added to Joe Allen's recent return to injury and Philippe Coutinho's role in the midfield three in recent weeks, Rodgers has many options ahead of the match with Manchester United.


Holding Midfield

Lucas actually picked up the injury in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa—a match that saw him come on to help rescue the game after Liverpool had been woefully exposed as Rodgers opted for a 4-4-2 shape and Jordan Henderson alongside Steven Gerrard in the centre.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 18: Lucas of Liverpool wins a header with Andreas Weimann of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on January 18, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The game prior to that, at Stoke, had seen Gerrard deployed in the holding role for the first time. Lucas still started the game, in a slightly more advanced role.

Lucas had been benched and his role altered in the two games that accommodated Gerrard in the new role.

Lucas' injury, therefore, made Rodgers decision to play Gerrard in the role that the Brazilian had occupied for the majority of the last three years much easier. Effectively, the choice of Gerrard over Lucas was taken out of the manager's hands.

Now, with Lucas returning, it will be extremely interesting to see how Rodgers uses his former "go-to" man at the base of Liverpool's midfield triangle.

Andrew Lawrence of This Is Anfield recently crunched the stats on Liverpool's use of Gerrard and Lucas, finding what you would expect: Liverpool score, but also concede, more goals with Gerrard in the side than Lucas.

His analysis though, did conclude that Liverpool were best off when they didn't play the two of them together, especially as a "double pivot" in midfield.


Last Match—Next Match

Liverpool's last match was the 3-0 victory at Southampton. A match that saw Rodgers change his midfield three in order to bring Allen in and thus play him and Henderson alongside Gerrard, moving Coutinho into a more advanced role in a midfield diamond.

Raheem Sterling was the unfortunate man to miss out—although he did score with his first touch after coming on as a substitute for Coutinho—but the speedy winger could be a useful option at Old Trafford, especially against United's ageing back four.

Rodgers may therefore seek to get all three of his attacking talents of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Sterling on the pitch. Leaving three midfield spots to be contested between Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, Coutinho and Lucas.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23:  Jordan Henderson of Liverpool celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal with his team-mate Steven Gerrard during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on February 23, 2014 in Liv
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Gerrard's place is assured, Henderson's too—the 23-year-old has started every Premier League game for the Reds this season—leaving the final place between Allen, Lucas and Coutinho.

That decision may be based upon the way Rodgers decides to set his side up; he could go similar to Everton and Arsenal at home and use Coutinho, sit slightly deeper and expose United on the counter-attack.

Or, he could play Allen, look to get more control in midfield, knowing that he has Coutinho to bring on and create opportunities later in the game.



Given the options Rodgers has available, it seems unlikely Lucas will start against United on Sunday.

What will be more interesting to see is how Rodgers uses the 27-year-old in the games following that, at Cardiff and at home to Sunderland.

Will Rodgers use him as an option to give Gerrard a rest? Will he use Lucas in a slightly more advanced role? Or will the Brazilian be reduced to playing a bit-part role as a substitute?