Lucas Suspended: What a Lucas-Less Liverpool Lineup Could Look Like
In his sixth league game of the 2013-14 Premier League campaign, Lucas earned himself a one-match suspension after sustaining his fifth yellow card of the season against Sunderland on Sunday.
This means the Reds No. 21, who has won a recall back to Luis Felipe Scolari’s Brazil side ahead of their upcoming friendlies, will sit out Liverpool’s hosting of Crystal Palace on Saturday October 5.
A chance, then, for Brendan Rodgers to continue tinkering with his new 3-4-1-2 formation with the absence of his trusted midfield enforcer, who has been rather underwhelming this season with his performances alongside Steven Gerrard.
Let’s look at what a Lucas-less Liverpool lineup could look like in its current context—but also how the Reds’ strongest starting XI would be if Lucas weren’t a fixture.
Let us know your thoughts and picks in the comments below.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet
With his impressive shot-stopping performances since joining Liverpool from Sunderland this summer, Simon Mignolet picks himself as the firm No. 1 in the lineup.
There have been moments of uncertainty for the big Belgian keeper, but if he improves his aerial command of the box and his distribution, he could turn out to be one of the Reds’ best ever.
Right Center-Back: Kolo Toure
Arguably Liverpool’s stand-out performer so far this season, Kolo Toure has proven to be an inspired signing for Brendan Rodgers this summer—and on a free transfer from Manchester City, will turn out as one of the bargains of the season.
On current form, Toure is an integral part of Rodgers’ starting XI, and as the season progresses, his experience and leadership will prove just as important as his pace, stamina and physicality.
Martin Kelly is a fantastic prospect waiting on the sidelines to return after his injury hell, but he’ll have to wait before he can hope to dislodge Toure from the lineup.
Left Center-Back: Mamadou Sakho / Daniel Agger
B/R’s Karl Matchett has more on why a three-man defence could be the way to go at Anfield, but a key reason is that the Reds now have a plethora of options in central defence to choose from, and summer signing Mamadou Sakho is one of them.
A nervous debut at Swansea City has been followed up by two solid performances in the league, and with each passing game Sakho is starting to justify both the hype he had as a prospect at Paris Saint-Germain and his £15 million price tag.
With him continuing his imperious form with an impressive set of defensive attributes, vice-captain Daniel Agger will have to bide his time before returning to the starting XI.
Central Defender / Sweeper: Martin Skrtel / Daniel Agger
It could well be that Agger could make his return to the starting XI in a central sweeper role, but Martin Skrtel’s impressive form in the heart of the three-man defence right now means that may take a while to happen.
Martin Skrtel’s performance against Manchester United in the second league game of the season turned out to be the start of a very encouraging upturn in form, and his no-nonsense brand of defending will continue to be important to the Reds’ fortunes.
Right Wing-Back: Glen Johnson / Raheem Sterling / Jordan Henderson
With Glen Johnson injured for at least another few weeks, Brendan Rodgers has been using Jordan Henderson as a right wing-back in his 3-4-1-2 formation.
Lucas’ suspension, however, may change the first-team setup a bit, and perhaps for the better.
We’ll touch on what we think could be a useful role for Henderson in a few slides.
But we posit that young winger Raheem Sterling could be an interesting experiment in a slightly more defensive starting position, given his pace, work rate, surprising upper body strength, and well-known penchant for bombing down the flanks.
Given a few more weeks for the rest of the team to settle into this formation, however, when Johnson—a player tailor-made for a wing-back role—makes his first-team return, that’s when things could well and truly become exciting.
Left Wing-Back: Jose Enrique
Jose Enrique is a player capable of two extremes: the brilliant and the downright frustrating, such are his attributes as a left full/wing-back.
His defensive qualities, barring a very apt use of his size and strength, are at times suspect (especially his positioning), while his crossing, shooting and decision-making leave much to be desired. But it’s no doubt that he offers a useful outlet on the overlap and a valuable contributor tracking back.
This is why a three-man defence, with Mamadou Sakho being another man supporting him from behind, could be the key to unlocking Enrique’s finest form.
Johnson, on the other hand, showed himself to be a more than competent left-back—in some quarters one of the league’s best—when standing in last term, but will only be moved over if other options on the right flank don’t work out.
Central Midfielder: Steven Gerrard
Whisper it quietly, but though he delivered the corner that Daniel Sturridge turned in for Liverpool’s first goal against Sunderland on Saturday and the breathtaking diagonal pass to send Sturridge on his way for his side’s second, Steven Gerrard has been far from his best form this season.
How much this has to do with Lucas’ underwhelming form beside him, or with his own ageing years, we’ll leave for another debate.
But for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that in the context of Liverpool’s young team and Brendan Rodgers’ inexperienced side, the club captain remains indispensable at the moment.
With a more energetic and positionally smart central/defensive midfielder beside him, Gerrard could rediscover his playmaking form of old, dictating matches week in, week out.
If anything, his set-piece prowess still sets him out as one of the Premier League's finest in that regard.
Central Midfielder: Jordan Henderson / Joe Allen
Enter Jordan Henderson, who has continued to justify his selection every week with steady, consistent performances in an attacking midfield role.
Given Lucas’ suspension, however, this could be a good time to try the No. 14 back in his favored central midfield position. Here, the Reds could use some good positional and tactical sense, excellent work rate and tracking back and, most importantly, the stamina and pace to track midfield runners and close down shooting opportunities from opposing teams.
Henderson’s tidy passing and ability to deliver a neat first-time through-ball also adds to the reasons we suggest him as a potential partner for Steven Gerrard, while Joe Allen’s form in this position early last year also means he could be an interesting contender for the role as well.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Philippe Coutinho / Victor Moses / Joe Allen
There’s no doubt that when fit, Philippe Coutinho will start in his favored—and strongest—No. 10 position supporting the striker(s).
Given his injury problems at the moment, Victor Moses has been used in this position, but has been relatively underwhelming due to his natural tendency to stay wide and influence proceedings from the flanks.
It’s fair to say that while Moses has an array of tricks that make him a dangerous winger, he doesn’t quite have that ability to unlock a defence with a composed pass or a delicate piece of skill that a Liverpool No. 10 should.
While Henderson has been used in that position with some success as a pressing No. 10, we suggest that Joe Allen, who was deployed in this role to good effect over the course of preseason, be given a run-out, especially if Coutinho is still injured when he returns.
Striker: Daniel Sturridge
When fit, the front two in this 3-4-1-2 system picks itself.
Daniel Sturridge, currently top scorer both for Liverpool and in the English Premier League, has shown even while not fully fit that he is maturing into a top well-rounded marksman.
He is likely to remain a key player for Brendan Rodgers for a few more months to come.
Striker: Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has come straight back into the Liverpool XI after his 10-match suspension even given his public protestations this summer, but it was always too big a temptation to resist.
Following up a lively performance against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup with a two-goal display at Sunderland, Suarez has played his way back into the hearts of the Liverpool fans again, and will play an important role for the rest of the season, at least.