Friday, September 26, 2008 by Paul Grech
Not one to dwell too much on what the reaction might be, Rafael Benitez has never shirked away from making controversial choices because people might not agree with them. Few of his decisions, however, will match the levels of surprise hit the last time Liverpool travelled to Goodison Park.
With the game stuck at 1-1 and Liverpool struggling to build play, Benitez came up with a strange solution: take off Steven Gerrard and replace him with Lucas Leiva.
The Brazilian had been hyped up on his arrival yet for all the promise, few saw him as the best suited to replace the captain in such a high profile game.
Yet the move paid off. Liverpool started to get more into the game after that change was made and it was Lucas’ shot that Phil Neville handled on the line to give Liverpool the match winning penalty.
It also gave Lucas the ideal platform on which to build and confirm all the good that had been written about him. Sadly that hasn’t happened. Lucas has been given many opportunities but on very few occasions has he shown anything of special note. True, it is hard to pin-point games where he has been poor but quite simply it is often difficult to notice Lucas at all.
Take the recent game in Marseilles. Throughout the ninety minutes it was easy to forget that Lucas was even on the pitch such was his ineffectiveness. When the post-match statistics popped up, however, Lucas was up there with the top five passers in the game. Even more surprisingly, 80% of his passes had found a red shirt.
The reason behind this is fairly simple. Lucas follows the old Liverpool mantra of getting the ball and passing it on to the nearest team-mate. In that respect, Lucas excels.
Yet that is only half of the equation: Liverpool players were also expected to move into space in expectation of the return pass or to keep the move flowing forward. And that is where Lucas fails. He gets rid of the ball but rarely does anything particularly creative with it nor does he move too far away for the part of the pitch where he operates and this limits the impact that he can make.
This has also made him an easy target for criticism. The number of fans dissatisfied by how he plays is increasing with every game and they are getting more vociferous.
They have good reason for this. Lucas can occasionally thread through incisive balls, he is clearly an intelligent player and the high esteem in which he is held back in Brazil and indicator of his talent.
All this, however, is not enough to offset the current impression that he doesn’t add anything to the team.
For, what made Liverpool such a strong team for such a long time wasn’t simply their style of play but also the aversion of mediocrity: which is what Lucas has been for most of his time at the club. Time has come for him to start showing that he is better than that.
Category Lucas Leiva