Lucas relishing Anfield return
Soccer: The buzz surrounding defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva’s long-awaited return may appear odd for a Liverpool team struggling for goals, but manager Brendan Rodgers sees him as a vital cog in his masterplan.
A thigh injury has sidelined the Brazil international since late August, restricting him to just four matches in 2012 as the 25-year-old was out for eight months after a knee operation last December.
His absence was highlighted as one of the reasons for the Reds’ dip in form under Kenny Dalglish after Christmas and Rodgers believes his team have suffered equally.
Summer signing Joe Allen has been tasked with defensive duties in the intervening period but Rodgers hopes Lucas’s return will free the Wales international to have a greater effect further forward.
“Lucas has worked really hard on and off the field and it is great credit to the medical team who have worked very hard with him,” Rodgers said. “He is at the best point he could be in training and I am not sure how much further he can go with the training because it is now about the games for him. It is just about getting the balance. It is finding the solution to control the game.
"We need three different types; one (Lucas) who is maybe more defensive, another (Allen) who can link the game and still get forward and another (Steven Gerrard) who can push on into the box and get goals. That is the balance we have been looking for and that has been the job this season, trying to manage that through all the games to make sure we are as fit and fresh as can be.”
Lucas, after a difficult start immediately after his arrival from Gremio in 2007, has proved his importance to the side over the last couple of years.
He was the club’s young player of the year in 2009-10 and player of the year the following season to cement his place as an integral fixture in the side.
Having overcome a cruciate ligament injury, the first serious problem of his career, Lucas expected to return stronger only to manage just 74 minutes of Barclays Premier League action before being sidelined again. But he is relishing a return against Southampton tomorrow at Anfield.
“I have been out for a long time so I think that my performance will get better as I get more games, but I am really looking forward to the weekend,” he told liverpoolfc.com. “It’s another step forward. I think it will be like a fresh start for me. Ever since my first injury the fans have been very important to me and the players, on a daily basis, have really supported me.
“Now it’s the time for me to repay that and help them. When Brendan Rodgers arrived I was just recovering from the knee injury, so he gave me a lot of confidence and was always very clear about his plans for me.
“I have been watching games from the stands and now I want to help the team to get the points that we really need at the moment. We are getting to the middle of the season now and it is vital that we start to get more points. December and January are key months for teams in the league, so it’s important for us to get as many points as we can.”
Defeat at Tottenham, despite one of their best displays under Rodgers, ended an eight-match unbeaten run and left them 10 points adrift of fourth place.
Rodgers accepts results have to start matching performances to achieve their targets and scoring more goals is central to that.
Tomorrow’s visit of the struggling Saints, who have the top flight’s worst defensive record and have won only three of their last 36 league visits to Anfield, provides the ideal opportunity.
“We are not in a position we deserve to be in, but ultimately we have to turn the performances into results and that is what we aim to do,” Rodgers added. “It has been terrific to watch; you’ve seen the growth of the group, the mixture of young and senior players really playing with freedom and all you can do is keep your head down and work hard. The level of our game is a good one but we have to align that with results and that is important. Once we find the solutions to scoring more goals I believe we can push on.”
Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin is looking forward to tomorrow’s “extra special” trip to Anfield, where he plans to get one over on his idol Gerrard. The Reds captain has come under scrutiny of late, having yet to reproduce his best form under Rodgers - epitomised by the fact the once free-scoring midfielder has just a single league goal to his name this season. However, Gerrard is still adored by the Liverpool faithful and also by one of those set to line up against him tomorrow.
Southampton midfielder Schneiderlin began to follow the Merseysiders in his native France due to the influence of Gerrard and cannot wait to pit his wits against the England star.
“It is a bit extra special to play Liverpool,” said Schneiderlin, whose side’s manager Nigel Adkins and top scorer Rickie Lambert are both ardent Liverpool fans. “In France when you watch TV, you had to choose between Liverpool and Manchester. A lot of people six or seven years ago chose Manchester United, I chose Liverpool because I used to, and I still, love Steven Gerrard as a player.
“It will be special and I can’t wait to play against him, but unfortunately he is going to feel bad because we’re going to bring back three points. I will treat him like another player on Saturday. I just want to confront him and see what I can do against him."