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Lucas Leave-A? It may be time for a new defensive midfielder for liverpool

Many, not all, Liverpool fans feel that Liverpool need to replace Lucas Leiva in midfield, the general thought is that Lucas doesn’t contribute enough in terms of obtaining, retaining possession and overall impact. If we cast our mind back to when Liverpool had that midfield which included Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, it would be ridiculous to even suggest that Lucas be put into that squad, albeit he was 21-going-on-22 at the time. That midfield was part of the squad in the 2008/09, a season in Liverpool which finished second, setting the record of totting up the most number of points (86) and finishing second, just four points behind Champions, Manchester United.

How Do Liverpool fans feel?

I posed to my followers on Twitter a question: ‘Should Liverpool replace Lucas?’, this, in short, was the response:

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The vast majority of responses indeed agreed that Liverpool should move Lucas on, whether that is onto the bench and bring in a more suitable player or just remove him from the squad entirely and bring in a replacement. In fact, I gave the responses 30 minutes to pour in and looking back 26 of the 32 responses wanted Lucas out of the first team, only six of the responses suggested that Lucas should be part of our first team.

To get a more in-depth view on the matter, I spoke to a self-proclaimed lover of defensive midfielders, the editor of Anfield Index Dave Hendrick (Follow Dave Hendrick on Twitter here)

First thing’s first – is Lucas a good enough defensive midfielder for Liverpool?

The simple answer is no, Lucas is not good enough to be Liverpool’s starting defensive midfielder. The biggest reason for this is that he simply isn’t a defensive midfielder. He’s a box to box midfielder who was poorly converted. It’s very much a square peg in a round hole situation. His incessant ball chasing comes from his lack of instincts and discipline for the role.

He offers the defence no protection, which is the basic requirement from a defensive midfielder. It’s no coincidence that our defence’s record has ranged from average to poor since he became first choice.

Lucas also isn’t top 4 quality, so even if he was a natural DM he still wouldn’t be of the required calibre.

Who would be on your three-man shortlist for Liverpool’s next defensive midfielder?

There are many defensive midfielders in the world who would represent an instant upgrade on Lucas but to keep it to just three is actually more difficult than to simply name three who would be an improvement.

The key things a DM needs to have to play in an attacking set-up like ours are positional awareness, good instincts, an understanding of space and presence. By presence I mean that him merely being on the pitch should deter the opposition from wanting to try and run directly through the centre of our team. For me the three most realistic, affordable and suitable candidates are Yann M’Vila of Rubin Kazan, Lars Bender of Bayer Leverkusen and Maxime Gonalons of Lyon.

What do those players offer that Lucas currently lacks?

Those players offer all the things I’ve previously mentioned, all of which Lucas lacks. They are natural defensive midfielders and he isn’t. They offer an understanding of the position and the instincts for the position. He doesn’t.

Would Lucas be suitable to play as a “number two” for a new, better defensive midfielder?

Personally I don’t think he is. He’s on big wages, rumoured to be around 80k per week. He’s also 27 and unlikely to improve. In my view our best bet would be the get a top class defensive midfielder, like one of the three I mentioned, then sell Lucas and look to get a young back-up. Someone like Diego Reyes of Porto who’s a big time prospect. Of course we could hold on to him for a year or two until Pedro Chirivella is ready to step up but by that point we may struggle to give Lucas away as his value is just going to continue to drop.

Liverpool have never replaced Javier Mascherano. Your view on that?

It’s really been shocking mismanagement from three successive Liverpool managers, and it’s an enormous part of the reason we’ve been a mid-table team for so long. Thankfully Rodgers appears to have seen the light. Mascherano was the key ingredient in that 08/09 team which finished 2nd. He did the dog-work for Alonso and Gerrard which enabled them to focus on dictating the game. He protected our defence at an elite level, something our defenders haven’t had the benefit of since.

So, who does Liverpool target?

Yann M’Vila, a man in demand, is wanted by Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool. He was also linked with moves to QPR and Fulham before making a £9.6 million move to Rubin Kazan in 2013. M’Vila has recently been spotted at a Merseyside Derby, his purpose of visiting is however quite ambiguous as he has recently been linked with moves to both Liverpool and Everton, his national teammates Mamadou Sakho and Aly Cissokho also both play for the Reds. Having said that it’s simply speculation at the moment.

But, is he better than Lucas?

Well, in the Premier League so far this season Lucas has won an average of just 46% of his duels, in comparison and perhaps contrast Yann M’Vila has won an average of 66% of his duels so far in the Russian Premier League. There are other players who were amid speculation over January concerning a move to Merseyside be that through genuine interest or fans jumping on false links. These players include Porto’s Fernando Reges and PSG’s Blaise Matuidi, both of whom can offer Liverpool some much needed steel.

Firstly Fernando, probably known now for Manchester City’s deadline day interest in his services, would be a good acquisition for City as he would offer cover and competition for Fernandinho and Yaya Touré.

It seems a tad selfish though for them to have two players with the same name, barring an -inho, right? Let’s see what Fernando offers compared to Lucas.

Fernando appears to be capable of offering more to the attack even from the defensive position he plays as he has created a total of 12 chances for his teammates in his six Champions League appearances this season for FC Porto. In contrast Lucas has created just six chances from 13 appearances in this Premier League season. But defensive midfielders are supposed to defend, not attack I hear you furiously scream. Indeed that is the case; this is another factor Fernando has to his game, so far in the Champions League this season he has won an average of 59% of all his duels, Lucas – 46%.

Blaise Matuidi is a player who has gained a fair bit of coverage recently, he has gained interest from a number of potential suitors in England including Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. He looked certain to leave France but now it seems he may be closer to securing a new deal with PSG. Matuidi stands up to his opposition, boasting an average of 56% duels won this season in Ligue 1. Matuidi trumps many other players in his position with a passing accuracy of 91%, only putting 12 passes astray all season long.

This is all well and good but statistics don’t paint the full picture, these players offer their squad a physical presence in the midfield, something I feel Liverpool have lacked since selling Mascherano to Barcelona four years ago. Quite like what Martin Škrtel is at the defence for Liverpool, a player who is not afraid to dive in when it matters instead of ineffectively jockeying around in an attempt to pressure the opposition, sometimes a simple slide tackle to knock the ball out of play allowing your team to organise themselves is the better option.

Dave mentioned that he would opt for (as well as M’Vila) Lars Bender of Bayer Leverkusen and Maxime Gonalons of Lyon, players that offer positional awareness, good instincts, an understanding of space and presence. Some of you will be familiar with these guys but how do that stack up defensively with Lucas? Lucas has won 46% of his duels (I know, the third time I’ve mentioned that), 24-year old Bender has averaged a winning percentage of 61% of duels this season with Bayer Leverkusen and 24-year old Gonalons has average a winning percentage of 51%.

Author’s Comment

Lucas has just turned 27, surely he’s at a point now where his game isn’t going to improve, in fact he should be playing in the prime of his career right now. M’Vila, aged 23, is by far my favourite candidate for a potential replacement for an apparent chink in Liverpool’s armour – if I were Rodgers I would pull out every card in an attempt to bring him to Anfield. M’Vila should be available for around £15 million. My next choice would be Fernando, aged 26, standing at 6ft, like M’Vila, he offers a threatening physical presence, appropriately nicknamed “the octopus” he gets all over the field and would offer Steven Gerrard some room to breathe in Liverpool’s midfield. Finally my third choice if the other two were not possible would be Matuidi, aged 26, he’s not as much of a physical player but he does make up that with a technical style of play. Both Fernando and Matuidi should be available for around £10 million although the availability of the former could be affected by City’s interest in him which may well be reignited in the summer.

Don’t think I’m not a fan of Lucas, I have recently said that he may not be Bastian Schweinsteiger but he is our Bastian Schweinsteiger, I just feel, as well do many others, that there may need to be a change in our midfield if we are to continue progressing.

*Statistics taken from Squawka and Transfermarkt, accessed on 14/01/2014.

What do you think of Lucas? Is it time for Liverpool to replace him? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Related:

Liverpool- Transfer Window of Lost Opportunity?

Steven Carson

Steven is one of Outside of the Boot's Liverpool FC reporters and brings readers a track on all matters Anfield. He also writes the odd piece on Juventus. Steven is studying Journalism at John Moores University in Liverpool, he will complete the course by 2016 and currently lives in Knotty Ash. He follows the Reds as often as he can, brings you exclusive interviews and insightful, independent analysis. Find Steven on Twitter: @stevenjrcarson.
Steven Carson

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