Lucas Leiva: the midfield guardian
Often in football, there are certain players who do not get as much media attention as other players, yet their importance to their team is undeniable. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva is one of those individuals. After spending some time at Gremio and Liverpool, Leiva joined Lazio in the summer of 2017/18 and quickly become an integral part of the Roman club. Below, we will be taking a look at his career so far, before delving further into the clockwork midfield mastery of the central midfield superstar.
Lucas Pezzini Leiva, simply known as Lucas Leiva, was born on the 9th of January 1987 in, Dourados, Brazil. Starting his footballing career in his home country with Gremio in 2005, the following year, he won Campeonato Gaucho with the club and he was a star performer, instrumental in their success. His performances won him the Golden Ball award, chosen by a popular magazine in Brazil – an award that previous winners include Kaka and Carlos Tevez. He caught the eye of scouts of some top European clubs with his impressive performances and in 2007 he signed for Liverpool at the age of 20; the Premier League side fended off interest from Inter Milan and several top Spanish sides. This itself was a big challenge for a youngster, moving from one continent to another, but Anfield is where he would go on to play for 10 years between 2007 and 2017. However, in the summer of 2017, Lucas Leiva’s decade-long stay with the Reds came to an end. The Biancoceleste secured his signature for just €5 million, after the departure of Lucas Biglia to rivals AC Milan. He had a fantastic season in his first season, being instrumental to both their league and European success. He played in 50 matches in all competitions; 36 out of the 38 matches in the Serie A TIM. He scored four goals and provided seven assists, making it one of his most successful productivity-wise.
This season, Lucas was once again expected to be a starter in Simone Inzaghi’s 3-5-1-1 formation, playing in his same central defensive midfield role. After his yellow-card suspension that carried over from the 2017/18 season he played in the next 10 of 11 matches but at the end of October, he was stopped as he picked up an injury – a tear in his adductor muscle. He then tried to return to footballing action after a short period of time, but this just worsened the injury. Lazio’s midfield guardian had then remained sidelined until just recently wherein Matchday 17 against Cagliari, he played the last 21′.
Lucas Leiva was a box-to-box midfielder when he started his career with Gremio. He had the attacking ability to create chances by driving with the ball up and down the pitch. In addition, he would also be doing the defensive work, tracking back to tackle and cover in-case of an opposition counter attack. His impact with the South American club led to the media touting him to be a future prospect of the Brazilian national team – he was already the captain of the Brazil U20 national team at the tender age of 19, showcasing his capabilities to lead and guide a side.
At Liverpool, when Lucas was signed, the Reds already had a midfield of Sissoko, Gerrard, Mascherano and Xabi Alonso. Given the well-known names in the squad, it was always difficult for a young player to break into the team straight away, however, Rafael Benitez remained confident with Lucas’s attitude and ability to play. His debut for the club came against FA Cup minnows Havant and Waterlooville where he scored his first goal. Deployed as an attacking midfielder who played behind the striker, as matches went by, Benitez had other ideas for Lucas and in the following season, Lucas was deployed as an orthodox holding midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation. When asked for the reason for the Brazilian’s position change, Benitez responded, stating that his ability to tackle and his intelligence of the game had influenced his decision.
At Lazio, many thought that Lucas had come to end his career in Italy. After spending a lot of time on the bench in his last few seasons in England, fans had not seen the player in action as often as they would have liked and compared to a big name signing that Laziali would have been excited for, he was far from it. However, in his first season, Inzaghi made it clear that he would be the direct replacement for Biglia and what a surprising upgrade it turned out to be. Playing as a deep-lying playmaker that plays directly in front of the defensive back four – more of a traditional defensive midfielder – he has been the main focal point between Lazio’s defense and attack. Many of the passes that Lazio play go through Lucas and he is nearly always involved in the build-up play to Lazio’s goals. He is instrumental in holding the team together, covering for midfield partners such as Marco Parolo and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who prefer to stray forward. Near the end of last season, we even saw Lucas Leiva pushing higher and higher up the field as he was in terrific form, scoring goals. With a return set for Matchday 18 against Bologna, Lucas is likely to start in his original midfield role in Inzaghi’s signature formation. However, we have recently seen the Italian manager change his formation to play a 3-4-1-2, canceling Lucas’ position. If this continues to be the case, it looks as if the Brazilian will be fighting to earn his spot back into the starting eleven.
Truly in the prime of his career, there is hope that Lucas can continue to be an electrifying spark in this Lazio side, leading and assisting in Europa League and Serie A success.