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Lucas Leiva – The Best Defensive Midfielder In The Premier League

Detailing how Lucas Leiva has developed from a player the fans used to boo, into the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League.

Maxi, Glen Johnson and Charlie Adam might have scored all the goals in the last three matches against Chelsea and Manchester City, but no player was more impressive than Lucas Leiva. Indeed, the Brazilian has been one of Liverpool’s best for the last 18 months.

When he broke down after a clash with Ryan Bertrand it immediately looked bad. Liverpool fans now almost universally acknowledge his benefit to the team and most were justifiably concerned at the sight of him clutching his knee in agony.

With news breaking on the official site that Jonjo Shelvey has been recalled from his loan immediately all signs are pointing to a lengthy injury layoff for the Brazilian stalwart, although the results of his scans have yet to be announced.

Of course, Lucas wasn’t always thought of so highly by the Anfield faithful. “The boos at Anfield were the lowest point in my career” he said after a dire 0-0 draw against Fulham in which he was heckled from the stands. Lucas had this to say in an interview with the Guardian in March 2011,

“Things were not looking good and some supporters were obviously not happy. I still think people needed to see the bigger picture. The move to Liverpool represented a change of country, language and there was also the not so small detail that I was only 20 and arriving at a traditional club in one of the most demanding leagues in the world.

Also, few people seemed to remember Liverpool had a group of players that had made two of the last three Champions League finals. It would have been impossible to just parachute in. Maybe the supporters thought a Brazilian midfielder would do magic.”

Aside from those obstacles Lucas also had to deal with a challenging transition from playing in a much more attacking role for Gremio to a strict holding role under Benitez, as well as the weight of expectation that comes from being the youngest ever winner of the Bola de Ouro in 2006 (won by players like Kaka, Robinho and Carlos Tevez to name but a few) as well as playing for one of the most attacking footballing nations in history.

“In Gremio I had carte blanche to go forward and participate more in the attacking plays. But things had to change when I arrived in Liverpool, where I am used much more as a holding midfielder. That transition took time and made settling in even more challenging. It was necessary to prove to Mano that I could still be useful.”

Sure enough, Lucas proved he could be more than useful, evolving his game and developing into arguably the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League.

During the back end of last season, he and Jay Spearing formed a formidable midfield partnership which destroyed attacks that came their way and allowed Luis Suarez and the like to go out and play. The Brazilian was a key component in Liverpool’s late climb up the table, and his form in the league saw him cement his place in the Brazilian national team.

Fast forward to this season and he is topping the statistics for the most successful tackles (68) in the league. He is also consistently at the top of the distribution charts, with 687 total passes, 57 passes per game and a passing accuracy of 86%, stats that are better than any other Liverpool player and up there with the best midfielders in the league.

In December 2008 Rafa Benitez already knew how good a player he would become,

“People just don’t know how good Lucas is. He is a fantastic player, he was captain of his club side at 19 and has already won full caps with Brazil. Not just any country, but Brazil. He has captained their under-21s and their Olympic team.”

It takes a good attitude to bounce back from the boos Lucas once endured, but to develop into the player he has become is truly extraordinary. Hopefully the Brazilian’s injury is not serious and he’ll be back soon enough, because losing him will be a huge blow for Liverpool’s top four push.

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