As Liverpool’s longest tenured player of almost nine years, Lucas Leiva is one of the Reds’ most experienced players. The 2015-2016 was perhaps one of Leiva’s most unique and trying seasons in a red kit as he began a semi-permanent transition to center back from his previous position of defensive midfield. Called upon to this new position during Liverpool’s midseason injury crisis in central defense, Leiva excelled in this spot utilizing his superb tackling capabilities and game reading abilities. Now at 29 years old and his game beginning to show signs of age, Leiva may have found a position that will enable him to stay at the club.
Even with age impacting his effectiveness, Lucas is still one of the best tacklers in the Premier League. In 21 domestic appearances, Lucas averaged a staggering four tackles per match. The Brazilian won 57.6% of his 347 duels, as well as a 59% rate of success in his 105 aerial duels. In comparison to Tottenham midfield destroyer Eric Dier who won three fewer duels, and made almost two tackles less per match than Lucas, the Brazilian’s numbers are all the more impressive. Not to mention, Lucas started 16 fewer matches than the Englishman. Lucas’ ability to break up play in the midfield and now in defense is truly elite. He won 6% more duels, 2.6% more aerial duels, and 16 more recoveries than Dier despite rarely having true match fitness. No matter where Lucas lines up on the pitch, it is clear that his one real skill of being able to slow down an opposition’s attack is virtually unmatched on English shores. This ability combined with his experience as a defensively minded midfielder are two big reasons why he has been successful switching to central defense. Lucas is not afraid to be a physical enforcer in defense, and although this can be an issue at times, it is a trait that plays at center back in the vigorous Premier League. Although this statistic is not always accurate, Lucas averaged a whoscored rating of 7.03, one-tenth of a point better than Dier. It is clear that Lucas is still effective in certain areas of the match that can, and have been, very useful for the Reds. The Brazilian will most likely never be expected to play every week for the Reds anymore, but as a fill-in defensive midfielder or center back, Lucas can certainly still do a job.
For all of the positives Lucas brings with his toughness and ability to break up opposition attacks, there are a number of areas that are lacking. Lucas is severely limited in his mobility which is consistently exploited against fast-paced teams that spread play and effectively utilize the space that Lucas is unable to cover. The result of aging and past injuries have taken their toll on the Brazilian’s legs and it has shown in his performances, especially in midfield. At center back, this weakness is partially mitigated due to having fewer responsibilities, but there are still times in which Lucas is unable to keep up with speedy attackers running the channels. In addition, Lucas is only 5’10, and even though he was able to be relatively successful in the air last season, his height disadvantage comes into play a lot more at center back than in midfield. Lastly, while Leiva is a very adept tackler, he can sometimes be reckless. He committed 49 fouls in only 21 starts, a number that dwarfs Dier’s mark of 52 in 37 EPL starts. Lucas’ aggression is positive in most situations, but his tendency to accumulate fouls and yellow cards (eight this past season) can leave Liverpool susceptible to unneeded set pieces in dangerous positions. For a team like the Reds that can seemingly never cover set pieces well for an entire match, this is an area of Lucas’ game that has a negative impact on the team.
Lucas’ deficiencies prevent him from becoming an every week member of the starting 11, but the Brazilian can still hold an important place in the squad. Both Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel are set to depart Anfield this summer, leaving a void in central defense and in dressing room experience that Lucas will likely be called upon to provide. The Brazilian is far from the perfect player, but he can be a valuable member of the club off the pitch for the Reds (he was one of the players Allan Rodrigues mentioned as helping him to adjust to life in England). Plus, Lucas can still be a solid member of the squad, filling in for injuries when necessary, playing in cup matches, and providing solid competition on the training ground. As long as Lucas is not put in positions where his weaknesses are magnified, which he has not been under Jürgen Klopp, the Brazilian can still be a valuable asset to Liverpool football club.