The return of Lucas Leiva: Does the season start here for Rodgers?
After languishing at the bottom for the first 2 months, Liverpool have started a slow but steady ascendancy up the League table. Though the first few months would surely be shown as Rodgers’ settling in period, there was definitely a missing link in the squad.
As has been lamented on by many before, the midfield was the area that Liverpool were seen struggling in, despite having made their major purchases in that department. The additions of Allen and Sahin can in no way be termed as failed transfers, but the lack of squad depth that led to these 2 being played out of position most certainly worsened the matter.
Allen played in a much more spacious role at Swansea and was the creator-in-chief at the Liberty. As many had noticed, he was often the link between Britton at the back and Dyer, Graham and Sinclair upfront. It is exactly this link that Brendan Rodgers was missing till now.
Allen’s passing during the Spurs game
Allen fell into a very similar situation to Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, though the latter’s plight was as per the manager’s choice, unlike Allen. Arsenal lost Arteta’s effective distribution and forward runs as he is now restricted to ‘the Song’ role, and it is quite safe to say that the Spaniard is in no way a perfect fit for this job. Allen also went through the same phase, and though the Welshman is much quicker on his feet than Arteta, he is also easily dominated by physical opposition.
But luckily for Liverpool, they have not lost their Alex Song.
Lucas Leiva returned for the Reds after yet another long injury layoff. The highly underrated Brazilian had improved leaps and bounds in 2010-11 season but missed most of last season due to injury. After having made a very passive start to his career at Anfield, Lucas has now become a Kop favourite and his return at such a crucial juncture is sure to boost Rodgers’ plans.
And his presence was immediately seen in the recent victory over Southampton. Leiva was played as part of a 3 man midfield having Gerrard and Allen. Liverpool played with much more fluidity than they have all season, and there was no surprise to see their captain at the centre of it yet again.
From the Benitez era itself, Gerrard has been most effective when Javier Mascherano or Xabi Alonso used to play him into space at the halfway line and the English captain was able to find the wingers and strikers with ease.
This season the story has been much different as Stevie-G has had to fall much deeper due to Allen’s tendency to get into his usual attacking runs. This normally left Gerrard with the role to collect the free ball and find the flank-runners with cross field diagonals. This change to a one-dimension style affected Liverpool’s strikers Suarez and Sterling as the duo had to either come deep to collect the balls or had to restrict their runs to a specific wings.
This entire system seemed to have shifted in the Southampton game as Gerrard did not have to stick to the midway line and just spray his usual array of cross-field balls. Lucas Leiva had this role to defend in front of the back 4 and so Gerrard shifted ahead and combined with the onrushing Allen. He was now seen between the lines and was able to catch the runs of the wingers Sterling and Enrique.
This freedom directly reflected in Sterling’s runs as can be seen here. The young Englishman gave his captain many more options by making those precise runs. Another aspect of the winger’s game that Lucas affects is their defensive responsibilities. As can be seen in the heat maps below, Sterling’s tracking back has reduced drastically due to Lucas’ positioning at the back.