The Lucas Role
Yesterday we got our first glimpse of how Hodgson’s Liverpool would line up, even though only one of the players on the pitch was brought to Anfield by Woy. I was impressed with the creativity in the starting XI, with the manager choosing to play Gerrard in the “Alonso” role next to Mascherano. It was vintage Gerrard, with crushing tackles, sublime long passes and the box-to-box play that was so typical of him earlier in his career.
More importantly, though, I was happy he chose to play Lucas as a defensive midfielder rather than along with one. We saw the lack of creativity in midfield last year when the infamous Lucas-Masch partnership started, and that was one of the major factors in Liverpool’s dour performances. Hodgson thus used Lucas in the same way as his current national team and former Gremio coach, Mano Menezes, used him in the friendly against the US a few days back.
With Masch’s seemingly imminent departure to Barca, we’ll be left with 2 defensive mids – Poulsen and Lucas. How will Lucas’s inclusion affect the team? Lets take a look.
There are 3 things a defensive midfielder is required to do today, as excellently covered by Zonal Marking - tackling, distribution & interception.
In all three areas, Lucas has improved vastly, although his tackling still isn’t up to the level of Masch’s (but then again, whose is?). A lot of Liverpool fans were moaning last year about the number of sideways and back passes he made, expecting him to replicate Alonso’s passing range despite the fact that he was never meant to replace him, but what they were forgetting is that when trying to keep possession, one of the most important things is to be patient and knock the ball around until one can actually make a through-ball that is effective. What Lucas will be very useful for, is helping Liverpool maintain possession, which he did excellently for Brazil against the US. I reckon it will be a tactic used more against the “lesser” teams and you can thus expect to see Poulsen starting ahead of him for the big games. While it is too early to judge the way Hodgson will set up his teams, he has a history of giving up possession to the better ones (like Mourinho did with Inter v Barca) in order to have an upper hand in position. As Egil Olsen once noted, there’s almost always a trade-off between position and possession.
Considering that Lucas will probably be paired with Aquilani or Gerrard in the centre, he can afford to focus more on the defensive side of his game and opt for safety rather than creativity when dealing with the ball. Although he has shown that he can make those game-winning passes on occasion, I would be surprised if Hodgson plays him alongside Poulsen and expects him to be a creator.
You can see in the videos below (which I created) how important Lucas is in a team trying to retain possession. In fact, his exchange of passes indirectly led to the goal, creating space for the player on the left to exploit and cross the ball in. (1st half - 3:15) Another one of his tackles allowed a forward run which led to a chance on goal. (1st half – 5:00)
We see more of his defensive side in the 2nd half, with no less than six successful tackles (at 0:08, 0:19, 0:22, 1:36, 2:11, 2:19) and a couple of interceptions (In the game against Arsenal he made 3 successful tackles out of 4 in the space of 11 minutes). He also made a really nice pass towards the end which led to a goal-scoring opportunity.
The game against the US was one of Lucas’s better performances. Lets hope he can give us a few more of those this year and the Anfield faithful can finally give him the respect he deserves.