Lucas Leiva has been one of the main reasons why Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool were able to turn around the season after underwhelming during the first few months of this year. His physicality and fearlessness in the middle of the pitch has allowed the more offensive-minded players in front of him to focus on scoring goals.
The Brazilian is the type of player that every manager wants in his team, one who is willing to do the dirty work and does not try to do anything that he is not capable of. Since last December, Liverpool have been undefeated in every Premier League match that Lucas has started, the only defeat being the 3-0 loss to Manchester United, a match that he missed.
Now, it looks like he could be out for a month after coming off the field in the middle of the first half during the Merseyside Derby. Rodgers will have to asses the rest of the players in the squad to see who could best replicate the defensive duties of the Brazilian.
The first player that Rodgers will look at will be the one who replaced Lucas last weekend, Joe Allen. The Welsh midfielder is one of the manager’s favorite players since they were together during Rodgers’ time at Swansea.
Allen is a player who never gives up, despite being on the smaller side, he is willing to play very physically and does not back down from a challenge. Despite that, he is still a more offensive minded player than Lucas and he can occasionally forget about his defensive tasks. Allen is still the most likely candidate to take over the position beside Jordan Henderson but Rodgers should make sure that he gives Allen strict instructions to be focused more on stopping the opponent’s attacks.
If he wants to trust his defense to keep the goal clean and have Jordan Henderson take a bigger role on the defensive side of the ball, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard could be the player that Rodgers chooses.
Although this choice is the least balanced of them all, Gerrard can still have the occasional moment of brilliance that could win the match. Even though he has lost a step or two this season, his passing ability and football smarts alone make him an asset. All in all, Rodgers should probably only play Gerrard in midfield against opponents who are not strong on offense such as Crystal Palace or Burnley.
While this could upset the great chemistry that the three man defense has shown during the second half of the season, Emre Can could be the perfect replacement for Lucas. He has shown his defensive chops during his time on the right side of the back line and he also offers better passing than Lucas. It would be interesting to see what Can could do as a full time midfielder since that is still his main position despite excelling as a defender.
Fans just need to recall his wonderful pass to Raheem Sterling against Bolton to dream of all the assists the German could get if he was pushed higher up the pitch. Can’s size also makes him a good choice for the holding midfield role since he will has been able to deal with some imposing Premier League forwards such as Diego Costa and Romelu Lukaku.
With Dejan Lovren on the bench and with Kolo Toure returning from a victory in the Africa Cup of Nations, there is a lot more depth for the center back role rather than the in central midfield.