Via AllinOne Sports
Lucas Leiva has been at Anfield for nine years now after transferring from Brazilian club Gremio to Liverpool in 2007. Over the past few seasons, his play has declined as the leg injuries he has sustained over the course of his career have begun to have a sizeable impact on his mobility. At 29 years old with one year left on his contract, Lucas is facing a big challenge to force his way into a significant role in the coming season. This is not new for the Brazilian as he has been in a similar position over the past few summers leading to numerous rumors of him potentially transferring, but each time he has stayed and fought for his spot. Things may be different now, though, as Lucas appears to be further away from the first team than in past years, and with his window of opportunity to gain meaningful minutes on the pitch waning at 29, a transfer may be the best decision.
In Jurgen Klopp’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Lucas operates as a part of the two man pivot at the base of the midfield. A heavily defensively minded player, Lucas needs to be paired with a more box-to-box midfielder as a part of the two, or else Liverpool is left lacking creativity from the deeper midfield positions. Lucas plays a simple role as a shield in front of the defense. He offers virtually nothing going forward, and is conservative in his passing. While this can be valuable in certain situations, Lucas is the definition of a specialty player that is only used when the defense needs additional cover.
Unfortunately for Lucas, Kevin Stewart’s rise through the youth ranks and into the backup midfield role that Lucas was previously occupying figures to have a significant impact on the Brazilian’s playing time. Stewart and Lucas are very similar players with Stewart offering a little bit more mobility and movement thanks to his youth, and Lucas offering more positional awareness and savvy stemming from his experience. Neither player figures to be a key member of the starting eleven, but every good team needs a situational player that can afford extra cover to the defense late in games or in certain matches. From all indications, Klopp intends to make Stewart that player rather than Lucas as the Englishman received significantly more playing time in that role late last season, while also signing a new contract through 2020 in February. Klopp opting for Stewart over Lucas is a relatively easy decision to make. Stewart is seven years younger and offers far more potential whereas Lucas’ play has been declining and he has been notoriously injury prone throughout his career.
The injuries Lucas has sustained in the past that have led to his declining mobility may have opened up a new role for him in the squad. Over the second half of the season when Klopp was resting most of his key players for the Europa League, Lucas earned a number of starts at center back. He initially was put in this position due to the absurd injury list at the position, but he acquitted himself well at his new place in the center of the defense. Despite his decline, Lucas is still one of the best tacklers England. He may not have the aerial ability of most other center backs, but he can be very effective as a fill-in during an injury crisis or in cup matches where the starting center backs need a rest. Liverpool currently has only four center backs in the squad, and rather than buying another or relying on what he currently has at the position, Klopp may opt towards having Lucas as the team’s fifth center back. Although Stewart appears to have jumped over him in the midfield pecking order, Lucas’s positional flexibility in defense is valuable for a team that does not have much depth at center back.
Perhaps the biggest reason for keeping Lucas is his leadership and Brazilian heritage. After the announcement of Martin Skrtel’s departure to Fenerbahce today, the Reds have now lost two of the team’s most experienced squad members in Skrtel and Kolo Toure. With those two now departed, Lucas and James Milner are the two most experienced members of the team at 31 and 29 years of age. For a young squad striving to reach the top of the league, the Reds need strong leadership in the dressing room. Age does not always equate to leadership, but Lucas has been well known throughout his career as a very good person that is respected by his teammates. There is value in this quality, and being that he is Brazilian on a team with Samba stars such as Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and the young Allan Rodrigues de Souza, having an experienced member of the squad be Brazilian may not be such a bad idea. Keeping Lucas in the fold would give the squad another valuable mentor for the younger players to listen to and seek advice from. For a player such as Coutinho that has been rumored to be interested in moving to a bigger club, Lucas’ mentorship could be play a part in keeping the young star at the club.
Lucas is not a bad player, but at this stage of his career, his effectiveness is not where it once was. He still adds steel in the midfield that Stewart cannot match just yet, but Lucas’ pass completion was about five percent lower than Stewart’s and his total number of tackles, interceptions, and clearances per match was only 0.1 higher than Stewart’s mark. Plus, Lucas is earning a ghastly £80,000 per week as a fringe squad player whereas Stewart is making a mere £10,000. Each player offers a very similar value in terms of production on the pitch, but Stewart is making far less money and has much more potential, making the long-term decision of Stewart over Lucas relatively straightforward. Lucas’ ability to play in defense could save the Reds from having to shell out more money to buy another player, but £80,000 a week is a huge wage for a second-string situational midfielder that doubles as a fifth center back.
In the end, Klopp will have to decide whether Lucas’ impact in the dressing room and his dedication to the club is worth keeping him at Anfield. With only one year left on his contract, it is unlikely that any transfer would fetch anything more than about £5 million. As a result, unless Lucas wants to leave in order to gain more playing time, the Reds should keep the Brazilian for one more season before letting him leave on a free transfer next summer. Lucas has been a loyal servant to the club for nine years now, and this should give him the privilege of choosing whether or not he wants to stay. From a management perspective, selling would likely be the best option due to his huge wages and declining play, but he can still add depth in key areas while impacting the squad positively off the pitch. However, if Lucas wants to stay on Merseyside, the club should give him the respect he has earned and keep him at the club. If he wants to leave, though, hopefully the Reds can find a suitable destination where he can carve out a decent role for a club while he plays out the twilight of his career. After sticking with the Reds through all the ups and downs that the club has gone through since 2007, Liverpool should respect whatever decision Lucas makes on his playing future.
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