Date: 21st August 2009 at 3:00pm
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Amongst all the opinions and the press criticism there is a shortage of honesty about Lucas Leiva…

The honest truth is:
He is not Alonso…
He is not Aquilani…
He’s not even Darren Fletcher!

Of late Lucas has been getting and been giving a lot of press time. To the press room pundits he has emerged as a soft target in their constant search for angles to attack Liverpool and Rafa Benitez. The couch critics are also ready to use him as the reason why Liverpool cannot win their 19th title. Then there are a some, myself included, who see something in this young man who at one point was voted the Best Player in the Brazilian Championship (previous winners include Zico, Falcão, Careca, Alex, Fowi, Romario, Kaká and Tevez), who captained Brazil U20 and has just been included in the Full Brazil Squad for their crunch qualifiers against bitter rivals Argentina (led by our own Javier Mascherano) and Chile.

This week I have been engaged in a running battle with a good friend and fellow Red (Manny) regarding the virtues of Lucas. Looking at the first two games of the season I noticed a subtle difference in the positions taken up by Lucas in the game against Tottenham and that against Stoke. Comparing performances against two very different teams is dicey to say the least but for now that is all we have.

Chelsea v LiverpoolAgainst Tottenham he fulfilled his defensive duties well I think, but was not able to assert himself when we had possession. This is and has been one of the major criticisms of Lucas since his arrival. He has been off the pace and too lightweight to keep possession and find the right passes at times.
Then a few days later Lucas found a way to assert himself on the Stoke game almost from the off. The first shot (on target) in that game came from Lucas. Unlike in the Tottenham game he found himself in space at the top of the box and tested the keeper. Having been instructed by the boss to play higher up the field he was suddenly able to find a way to contribute. And to many he was close to being the man-of-the-match on the night. His passes found their target and he occasionally broke into the box and on one occasion was found striding beyond Torres into the box (unfortunately Torres’ flick did not reach him en route to goal).

To me those two games in a limited way sum up Lucas at Liverpool to date. Once in a while he finds himself in a game where he can make a difference. That is when we see the Lucas who was the best player in the Brazilian League. On other days, in other games he is almost a spectator. When he is off the pace and can’t seem to find any teammates.

I sat thinking long and hard after watching the Stoke game. The question on my mind, “Why can’t he play like that every game?” Then I thought back to the earlier Man U vs Burnley game and noted that Darren Fletcher had had a bad day at the office and Man U looked off form! And it hit me…
Darren Fletcher Bad Day equals Man U Off form!!!

I remembered back to the days when Fletcher was a source of ridicule. I would laugh at Man U supporters about having Fletcher in their team because the lad “couldn’t play”. The funny thing is many of them would publicly agree with me. They didn’t think he was worthy of a place in their team either. He didn’t seem to be able to cope in the Prem! There was even the ultimate humiliation of Roy Keane, the captain of his own team, coming out on the club channel and saying point blank he did not rate Darren Fletcher. Keane reportedly said, “I can’t understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher.”

But out of all that has emerged a player who in recent seasons has put in some key performances for his team (to my dismay). If you look closely you may notice that whenever a big game comes up Fergie will invariably pick Fletcher. He is not by any stretch a world class player but in a team with class players he is deemed essential! The man himself says “People ask me why I do well in those games but I don’t think I do anything differently. I think I always play like that but it is only when you are up against the best teams that people notice the work being done in midfield”
Read more here.

This is the same Darren Fletcher that Man U fans would gladly have thrown on the scrap heap much the way Liverpool fans are ready to get rid of Lucas. At some point in his career Fletcher figured out how to make an impact in games, how to use his industry and effort to contribute to his team’s success. He doesn’t play 60 yard balls or do crossovers because he can’t. He does what he is good at and it works. He gets around the pitch creating options for his teammates. He finds the right pass within his range and plays it. He defends critical space on the pitch and makes the opposition work hard to get an inch. And I think football fans and so called pundits have forgotten the virtues of having a hard grafter in your team whose job is to do the boring hard work so that the likes of Gerrard can do that turn he produced for the third against Stoke. Somebody has to do those jobs! In my opinion it would be a waste to make Gerrard spend 90 min closing down Stoke’s Dean Whitehead when he can do magic!

In my eyes Lucas has shown he can contribute in much the same way that Fletcher has. In our Old Trafford 4-1 win Lucas starred, putting in one of his best performances to date. Unlike in Fletcher’s case his teammates and captain rate him and fully back Lucas. Against Stoke he showed he can dominate midfields such a Stoke’s. It is worth remembering that the league is made up mostly of midfields like Stoke’s. They finished 12th last season.

It’s clear to me that Lucas can provide something to this team. If he can play to his strengths and in a way that allows Gerrard to do his magic, that helps relieve the defensive load on Mascherano. Then for me he is value. My friend Manny asked me straight out what I see as Lucas’s role in the team currently.
My response to him was as follows:
Lucas’s current role is to keep the game moving (not to set the pace). He has to be available for passes all over the park. When the attack is blocked and our players look for the ball retention pass, it should to Lucas. He has to use his energy and stamina to get around the park and keep the game ticking for us. He has to make his tackles and make his passes (within his range). He has to give our match winners security to do what they do best. Rafa does not send him out there and ask him to be Alonso so why are we sitting watching expecting Lucas to be Alonso?

In all the hysterical mourning about Alonso’s exit it escaped everyone attention that Alonso contributed 5 goals and 4 assists from 38 starts last season whilst Lucas scored 2 and made 4 in 25 starts. Now the stats don’t tell you about Xabi’s control of the game and the way he dictated play. But the Stoke game on Wednesday shows that against most bottom half teams you can expect them to yield control of the game as they set up for a hard fought draw in any case. It seems to me Liverpool critics have decided we will miss Alonso even in games we won’t need him! Rafa has instructed Lucas to play further up the pitch against weaker opposition. And if this can be the difference in turning draws into wins then we’ll all soon forget our loss and embrace the “arrival” of Lucas.

If Lucas can do a Fletcher and figure out how to impose himself on games consistently then his value will become more evident. It’s time for Lucas to show what he is worth and what he can do. I look forward to seeing him doing it in Red!

Lucas YNWA!