As the 2015/16 campaign approaches its final few months, attention will soon turn to the 2016/17 campaign, and nowhere will this be more interesting than at Liverpool.
This summer will be Jurgen Klopp's first in charge on Merseyside, having joined the club midseason, and there will be plenty of interest in just how he reshapes the squad—both in terms of incoming and outgoing players.
Klopp turned down the opportunity to enter the transfer market in the January window—adding only Steven Caulker on loan and Marko Grujic for a summer move. Instead, the charismatic German has indicated a willingness to give the squad he inherited from former boss Brendan Rodgers until the end of the season.
"I always say with players that I don’t sign contracts but it’s a contract for one year—a very good season the player can leave, a very bad one and the club will let the player leave," explained Klopp, relayed by Andy Hunter of the Guardian.
Klopp has added centre-back Joel Matip to his ranks already this summer, arriving on a free transfer from Schalke—meaning all the players he's signed for the Reds are over 6' tall. Clearly, physical presence is desired.
After the signing of Caulker, Klopp explained his need for tall players in defensive areas to the club's official website: "We want to play good pressing, we want to press the opponent and so they have to play long balls. If they play long balls, you need people in the last line who can help you with headers."
Being too weak in defence was one of the characteristics of Rodgers' Liverpool reign—too many technicians and not enough tenacity.
In front of the defence, Klopp wants similarly robust and physically commanding midfielders, often preferring to partner Emre Can and Jordan Henderson together.
Both have more presence than Lucas Leiva, who more often than not finds himself struggling when up against physical sides. Lucas was one of the players who had an initial bounce effect when Klopp first arrived in October—Jordon Ibe similarly—but his form has largely nosedived since, a battling performance at centre-back in the FA Cup defeat at West Ham United aside.
The longest-serving player in the Liverpool squad, Lucas is clearly a likeable character, but he's certainly not good enough to be playing every game and not good enough to be a holding midfielder for a team that wants to be challenging for a top-four place.
Klopp has clearly identified him as a useful, experienced player to have around the squad, but he's far from first choice. Not many, if any, Liverpool supporters would name him in their strongest XIs.
Liverpool's weakest performances this season have been against Watford (a 3-0 defeat), Newcastle United (a 2-0 defeat), Crystal Palace (a 2-1 defeat) and West Ham home and away (3-0 and 2-0 defeats respectively). Perhaps it's no coincidence Lucas started every one of those games.
Indeed, looking at Liverpool's results with and without Lucas this season reveals an incredible statistic: Liverpool have never lost when Lucas doesn't start (20 games) but have lost 10 games when Lucas has started (22 games).
While the 29-year-old's function as a holding midfielder is primarily defensive, unfortunately he offers very little going forward.
In 122 total appearances over the last four seasons, he has no goals and just a solitary assist. He has amassed an incredible 31 yellow cards in that time, though.
Liverpool have too many non-goalscoring midfielders, and Lucas is certainly one of them. Of course, he isn't to blame for Liverpool's poor attacking output, but you should expect a midfield player playing as regular as he does to be adding one or two goals and assists per season.
Goals from all areas of the team is what's required to get to the top. You simply cannot have players who don't contribute either defensively or in attack. Every player must contribute in both directions.
Lucas turns 30 next year, and his contact expires the year after. This summer represents the last opportunity for Liverpool to get good money for the player signed from Gremio in 2007.
With the player likely to be among Liverpool's highest earners, there is no value in keeping him if he's not first choice.
Liverpool aren't exactly short of midfielders—Can, Henderson, James Milner, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana are complemented by youngsters Kevin Stewart, Jordan Rossiter, Cameron Brannagan and Pedro Chirivella. And Grujic from this summer.
Of course, not all those can playing in holding midfield, but should Klopp sign another midfielder—which you would assume and hope will happen—it's very difficult to see how Lucas fits in.
A midfield trio of Xhaka, Can and Henderson has it all—all three can contribute defensively and going forward. Xhaka would add a grit and steel that Liverpool miss. A Javier Mascherano-like player.
Lucas and Martin Skrtel are Liverpool's two longest-serving players, but neither has the quality required for Klopp's side going forward. Both are past their best. They're high earners who do not represent their wages, players who perhaps typify Liverpool's drop from Europe's elite when they arrived to mid-table mediocrity.
Lucas may be likeable and he may be fine servant, but that matters little in football and doesn't win you trophies. Therefore, his future lies away from Anfield.
All stats via Transfermarkt.