Lucas remains Liverpool's shining light

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When Rafael Benitez signed Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva back in 2007, much was expected of the youngster, who made his international debut the year before whilst with Gremio.

A £5 million price-tag added further to the pressure, and whilst much higher figures are now spent on young players (think £16 million for Jordan Henderson), the fee suggested big things were to come.

"I am looking forward to seeing him score goals for Liverpool in the future and [we] believe he has the mentality and the character you need to do well in England," uttered Benitez at the player's unveiling.

Few would have believed it after his first few seasons at Anfield, but Lucas continues to prove the Spaniard right, and after a stellar campaign last year, the 24-year-old is again impressing on Merseyside, leading the Barclays Premier League tackling stats by a distance.

Of the top five tacklers in the division, Lucas has made over ten more successful challenges, with a 73% success rate from his 48. Youssouf Mulumbu, next on the list, has a 59% success rate from 37 efforts.

Whilst stats can only tell you so much in October, it's indisputable that Lucas has enjoyed a resurrection at Liverpool in the last season and a quarter.

His first season with the Reds was seen more as a bedding in period, but big things were expected of the Brazilian in the 2008/09 campaign after returning to the club with an Olympic bronze medal.


However, Lucas struggled to take opportunities when presented, and failed to impress in the shadow of Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso. Booed off the pitch in a Barclays Premier League match against Fulham, Benitez was passionate in his defence of the player.

"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," said Benitez after further criticism of the player came the Spaniard's way at a Charity event.

"He can tackle, he can pass the ball and he can win in the air. He is still a very young player learning to live in a different country.

"It is not easy for him to get into the team, considering the quality of the opposition he has to face in that department at Anfield."

Ian Doyle, writing for the Liverpool Daily Post at the time, went as far as to suggest a Champions League clash against PSV Eindhoven, which followed the Fulham draw, could decide his future at the club.

If that was the case, then it was lucky Lucas shined in a 3-1 win.

Confidence clearly grew, and a commanding display in-place of Xabi Alonso in the 4-1 win at Old Trafford in March certainly helped convince the fans that perhaps they mis-judged the hard-working midfielder.

Lucas was key to containing Ronaldo in 4-1 win (©GettyImages).

Gerrard was certainly on the side of his teammate, saying in May: “Lucas has had criticism from people, and for me that’s unfair. He’s a young lad still learning his trade.

“He does a lot of hard work that goes unnoticed in this team by many people, but we as players notice it."

Xabi Alonso's exit in the summer of 2009 propelled Lucas into regular first team action at the start of the season, with six consecutive Barclays Premier League appearances.

Another fine performance against Manchester United in October '09 added further to his credentials, but doubts from his first few years with the club continued to linger in the Kop.

"I'm still young. The criticism just makes me stronger and more determined to keep working and keep focused, because those are the only things that can help me improve," he told The Daily Mirror in the week after the 2-0 win.

Alonso's cult status with the club put Lucas on a hiding to nothing, and replacing the Spaniard was always going to be tough. Improvement was made, if slightly under the radar, and Javier Mascherano's move away in the summer of 2010 would be pivotal.

The pair shared a variety of similarities on the pitch, and the Argentine's move to Barcelona opened-up Lucas' chances of making the defensive midfield role his own.

Benitez's exit in the summer of 2010 could have led to things going wrong for Lucas, but he proved himself quickly to new manager Roy Hodgson, despite the addition of Danish international Christian Poulsen.

And, whilst the side struggled at the start of the season, Lucas did not.

“I'm really pleased with my form at the moment for Liverpool and Brazil, and I'm improving as I get older and gain more experience," he told in November '10.

“Am I appreciated more? By the media, I don't know. By the fans, definitely. Everyone can see when you are doing well on the pitch."

Injury to Gerrard made the Brazilian's role in the side even more influential, with Lucas becoming the side's linchpin as club legend Kenny Dalglish took the reigns in January.

After scooping the club's player of the year award, summer midfield signings under 'King Kenny' could have dented the player's confident back to a time in the past.

But, such is the feeling around Anfield towards the player, dropping Lucas seems like an improbable option, even with the return of captain Gerrard.

Instead, £35 million striker Andy Carroll found himself on the bench alongside Henderson for the clash against Manchester United on Saturday, with Lucas, Charlie Adam and Steven Gerrard all in the starting XI.

Whilst Benitez predicted big things for the player at the time, it is to Lucas' credit alone that he is now a midfield must for Liverpool.

Opta's stats add another notch under the player's belt, but to be adored by the Liverpool fans is probably much more important to a top talent.

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