Lucas injury is a blow, but not a fatal one

Posted by guest on August 30, 2012, 03:52:15 PM

Though he is a player renowned for his timing, especially when up against the best the Premier League can muster, Lucas Leiva's injury on Sunday could not have come at a worse moment for him. How cruel symmetry can be. Back in November, Lucas produced a performance against Manchester City that had English football salivating; the seemingly unstoppable of Yaya Toure met the immovable object; the Brazilian's shackling of the Ivorian purely cinematic. In this year's corresponding fixture, he trudged off holding his thigh, just a couple of minutes into the game, just a handful of games into his comeback.

He knew the moment it happened that this wasn't a mere dead leg, just like he knew in December that his knee injury during Liverpool's League Cup victory over Chelsea was no slight tweak. It was third time unlucky for the Brazilian international: his previous two appearances at Stamford Bridge yielded man-of-the-man awards. He was well on his way to a third, too. How symmetry can be so cruel.

The Kop have fallen for the 25-year-old – they say so in the song, after all. They like him; in fact, they love him. If there's any consolation for Brendan Rodgers, it's that Lucas Leiva is a fighter. He fought to recover from his knee injury ahead of schedule and start the first league game against West Brom; he fought for the affection of the Liverpool support. There would have been a time, years ago, when his removal would have been met with a guilty sigh of relief. No one wants to see a player injured, but few wanted to see Lucas Leiva in the starting 11, either.

History tells that the first few outings in a Liverpool shirt can dictate the subsequent years of an Anfield career - a few notable exceptions, such as record goalscorer Ian Rush, apart. Maybe it is because supporters attach themselves so vigorously to something so exciting immediately; Raheem Sterling grew in stature against Manchester City, responding to the increasing levels of optimism from the crowd when he received the ball.

Robbie Fowler, one of the club's most revered strikers, scored a poacher's effort against Fulham on his first appearance and then scored five in the return leg at home; Steve McManaman opened his bag of tricks during his substitute role against Sheffield United and spent the remainder of the season showing why Kenny Dalglish was so keen to sign him as an 18-year-old. Steven Gerrard looked assured against Celta Vigo; Xabi Alonso looked a class above in Liverpool's defeat at the Reebok Stadium; Pepe Reina, predictably, kept four clean sheets in his first four league games.

And so it proved again at Goodison Park on a sun-tinged, blustery autumn afternoon in 2007, when Dirk Kuyt bounded towards the away end with both the energy and appearance of an exhilarated Labrador after his last minute penalty sealed a famous 2-1 victory. Liverpool supporters had their protagonist, journalists had their story and the football world had its eyes on one man: Dirk Kuyt, two goal hero of the Merseyside derby. As he lapped up the adoration, a gangly, awkward-looking 20-year-old with hair like a 1980s failed rock star ambled back to the Liverpool half. He'd have been forgiven for casting a bitter, rueful glance towards the tunnel where Phil Neville walked down moments earlier – but jealousy and selfishness are two things Lucas Leiva doesn't possess.

It was the youngster, making just his third appearance for the club, who burst into the box in a manner promised by Rafael Benitez when he signed him from Brazilian club Gremio that summer. The run was timed to perfection, the shot was hard and accurate; Lucas Leiva: a fingertip away from instantaneous hero status. But Phil Neville's handball denied him and the endeavour and ability of Lucas had gone unnoticed and unappreciated. Even after his last-minute contribution, people questioned his presence on the pitch after replacing Steven Gerrard with 20 minutes remaining.

His struggles with acceptance from Liverpool supporters are well-documented. A lesser player would have crumbled. Many players have. But Liverpool have something special in Lucas. Aside from his masterful control of the midfield is a mentality as strong as anyone's. Mentality. One word, four syllables, said with such meaning by the new Liverpool manager. It's as important as the ability to pass and press. Though Rodgers will miss that mentality on the pitch, he will know it's that mentality will see him return and raring to go in three months' time.

Unlike the aftermath to his Chelsea injury, the club will be feeling disappointment rather than unbridled, hysterical distress over Lucas' injury. The projected length of absence helps, but so too the replacements. No longer is Jay Spearing the only option. Instead Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin look primed to start against Arsenal and beyond. Allen has been impressive so far, while Sahin is a German league title winner and former Bundesliga player of the year. Jay Spearing, meanwhile, looks to be Championship-bound. It is testament to the work Rodgers has done in the transfer window that Lucas' injury, while a blow, will not be felt at full force; it is not a fatal one to their aspirations this season.

With just over a day remaining of the transfer window, expect Rodgers to be busy. The aforementioned Spearing is expected to leave, as is Charlie Adam. Though Allen cost £15million and Sahin is merely on a year-long loan, to see those four players in the revolving door at Anfield will please most, especially with Rodgers' style of play in mind. When Lucas was injured in December, there was a clamour for Liverpool to find a replacement for him in the January transfer window; someone who could ably do Lucas' role, as well as play alongside the Brazilian. Kenny Dalglish refused to look at the market. Rodgers appears far more pragmatic with transfers; Allen and Sahin are both versatile players who can fulfil several roles. Spearing and Adam, unfortunately for the duo, are not.

That's not to say Rodgers will not want Lucas back as soon as possible, regardless of Allen and Sahin, not to mention both Shelvey and Henderson who can also deputise there. With the midfielder looking slightly off the pace against West Bromwich Albion on the opening day, he clearly needed games to develop his match fitness. This injury is a setback to that. But he will be afforded time by Rodgers to recover fully. More pertinently, he will be afforded time by the supporters, too. That's something that would not have happened five years ago. Asymmetry can be a beautiful thing, sometimes.

Link: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/liverpool/id/63?cc=5739

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