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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lucas Leiva – You Can’t Put a Price on Him

''The thing about Lucas Leiva is people don't realise how good he is." These were the fewest, perhaps most befitting words that former Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, once used to describe one Lucas Pezzini Leiva after the Brazilian was booed by the club’s own fans following a disappointing barren draw against Fulham in the 2008-09 Premier League season.

Lucas was experiencing a tumultuous period in only his second season in the energy-sapping Barclays Premier League having made a £6 million move from Gremio. He was signed as an attacking midfielder then, with Benitez saying "I am looking forward to seeing him score goals for Liverpool in the future.”

The goals were not coming and the impatient fans were calling for his head vociferously claiming that he was not good enough to don a Liverpool away kit, let alone the legendary all red home kit. Some called him the worst Brazilian ever to grace English football. All manner of jokes and mockery was labeled at him in a manner that would have sent any player back to his country to play football in the streets.

Benitez nevertheless stuck to his blonde Brazilian, even highlighting to all the naysayers that Lucas had been captain for both Grêmio and his national youth team. But the haters and boo boys wouldn’t listen. Never mind he was competing for a place in a midfield that had the fantastic Steven Gerard, the pass master Xabi Alonso and the tough-tackling Javier Mascherano.

A brilliant performance in Liverpool’s 5-1 thrashing of Newcastle earned him plaudits thanks to that Xavi-esque through ball to Gerard to score one of the goals. But a game later, the then 21-year-old gave away a penalty that drew Wigan level and was then sent off against Everton in a cup tie loss. That undid all the right things and the critics were back roasting Leiva’s ass again.

Surely, he was never going to make it. Or was he?

At the beginning of 2009-10 season, Liverpool suffered the loss of Xabi Alonso, a midfield linchpin and the master of long range inch-perfect passes. The exit of the Basque player to Real Madrid opened the floodgates for Lucas to make his mark in the first team. Playing alongside Javier Mascherano, Liverpool evidently struggled, finishing a lowly seventh and missing out on the UEFA Champions League.

Benitez, Lucas’ apparent guardian was fired and rumours went round that the Dourados-born playmaker was finally going to exit Anfield for a club as mediocre as his skills with the ball.

But that never happened. What happened is; he won some doubters, and for some reason, stayed at the red half of Merseyside. 

The 24-year-old’s status as a fine footballer rose last season that saw him named Liverpool’s Player of the season. Then came Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool number 21 became an irreplaceable man in the midfield, both for club and country. Brazil. You read it right. Lucas Leiva is a regular in the ticking Brazilian team. He’s got samba feet. Lucas, Lucas, Lucas.

If anyone still doubts the 2006 Brazilian Footballer of the year’s talents, fast forward to the away game at Chelsea a fortnight ago. Manning the Liverpool midfield with Scot Charlie Adam, Lucas scuffled any attempts by Andre Villas Boas’ men to make forays into the Liverpool penalty area.

His performance was as effective as it was eye-catching as Liverpool won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. If you thought he was top class against the Blues, you won't find a superlative good enough to describe his performance against table-topping Manchester City.

Sheikh Mansour's Manchester City have been scoring goals for fun in the Premier League. Going into the Liverpool match, they had scored no less than two goals in all EPL matches including a 6-1 humiliation of rivals Manchester United. Their midfield have been instrumental. But against King Kenny's side, Lucas and his partner Charlie Adam marshaled the midfield the best way they know how.

Despite the Brazilian’s relatively small built as compared to his antagonists in the middle of the pack, he dealt with the guile of David Silva, the beastly physicality of Yaya Toure and usurped the energy of James Milner. Samir Nasri must have gone for some energy packs after his substitution.

Silva has been simply unplayable for most part of the season. He leads the premier league assists table with 8 and has scored four goals. But the Brazilian with Italian descent made him look ordinary. He shut down City’s heartbeat and never put a foot wrong as he made timely interventions and swift passing, spreading it left, right, forwards and sometimes even covering at centerback.

The Citizens’ custodian Joe Hart was named man of the match after pulling one stunning save after another and ensuring City left with a valuable point. Lucas should have won it.

Nothing says more about his workmanlike effort than these statistics from Anfield index:
Pass Accuracy: 92.2% Tackle Win: 100% (7/7) Ground Duel Won: 81.3% (13/16) Aerial Duels Won: 100% (4/4)

Just over a year ago, his ability to play at the top was questioned by countless critics who must now be eating their humble pie and scratching their heads at just how good the Brazilian has come. Consistency has been his strength and it’s hard to identify a premier league player who has improved with every passing game as Leiva.

He was named the Standard Chartered Fans player of the year last season and with bossy performances against top sides Chelsea and Man City, he looks certain to be named Liverpool FC player of the month, an award that Luis Suarez has won for the last three months, something the Uruguayan has termed 'embarrassing'. Well, it won't be embarrassing no more as El Pistolero won't get the accolade for November.

It’s about time people gave Lucas the respect he’s earned. You simply can’t put a price on him because you just don’t know how good he can get.

Walk on Leiva.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!