Liverpool have an unbelievable wealth of midfielders. Alongside club captain Steven Gerrard are the European internationals Dirk Kuyt, Christian Poulsen, Raul Merieles and Alberto Aqualani, who has looked supremely casual in pre-season. Throughout last season, Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey impressed immensely, as did Maxi Rodriguez in the last few games. Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic have struggled to make an impact, but are still on the books as things stand. Even so, Dalglish has spent almost £50m acquiring Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and, most recently, Stewart Downing. This is without mentioning promising youngsters Raheem Sterling, Daniel Pacheco and Suso.
The most important midfielder, however – aside from Steven Gerrard – is the much maligned Brazilian, Lucas Leiva. He may not play pretty football, but he is incredibly effective. His battling performances in 2010/2011 won many fans over and he walked away with the supporter’s player of the season award.
Dalglish evidently rates Lucas highly, as he played more games than any other Liverpool player last season, with the exception of Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel. His abilities are proved by the fact that he won more tackles than any other Premier League player last season, winning no fewer than 111 duels.
So far, Liverpool have certainly been entertainers in pre-season, beating Guangdong 4-3 and a Malaysia XI 6-3. Although it would be foolish to read too much into these friendlies, the absence of Lucas has been quite evident. His positional sense has improved dramatically in recent years, and his discipline has allowed the likes of Gerrard and Merieles to support the attack, whilst maintaining solidarity at the back.
Some see Adam playing in a Xabi Alonso role next season; shielding the defence at the same time as playing as a quarterback. However, Blackpool fans will be the first to testify that, for all his wonderful abilities on the ball, Adam loses possession on a regular basis and his lack of pace is exposed when he plays in such a role.
Many fans are also excited at seeing a Gerrard-Adam-Henderson triumvirate at the heart of the team, but Henderson doesn’t yet possess the experience and discipline to sit back and allow those around to get forward.
Regardless of whether Dalglish chooses to play with two or three central midfielders in the coming months, Lucas’ inclusion in the team is vital.