Pitchside

Can Lucas make the difference for Liverpool in the title race?

Pitchside

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With Lucas Leiva returning to fitness for Liverpool, our friends at Squawka attempt to work out how he will fit back into the starting XI...

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Liverpool continue their late push for the Premier League title this weekend with a tricky tie away to none other than Manchester United in a game that will prove vital to their hopes of catching leaders Chelsea.

Although Liverpool may be on fire and in form, the final stretch of this remaining campaign should see a further boost with the return of Brazilian star Lucas Leiva.

However, Rodgers may see such the return of Lucas as a potential headache as much as he benefits from the presence of one of his squad's key players. Lucas may be back and raring to go but where does he fit into this in-form Liverpool side?

The simple matter of fact is that although Lucas may be one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League at this given point in time, his club have built an incredibly successful season off the back of a newly formed but instantly successful midfield set-up. Rodgers will be happy to have his Brazilian star back, but he may struggle to find a spot for him within a well-oiled machine.

The most obvious role that Lucas can perform for his club is of course the defensive midfield position, yet this season we've seen none other than club captain Steven Gerrard move into that position and perform it with a significant amount of experience and expertise.

If the Brazilian midfielder hopes to make it back in to the Liverpool side anytime soon he may have to dislodge the club's in-form captain from the position that was until this season exclusively his.

Yet the most peculiar aspect of Gerrard's new role at the base of Liverpool's midfield is that he still isn't undertaking the same tasks Lucas had when he performed the role of sweeper in the middle of the park.

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If we look at both players' stats from this season's Premier League campaign, we can see that although Gerrard has scored eight goals and created 51 chances - nine assists and 42 key passes - in 24 games, his average defensive action per game is rather low at just four.

While Leiva's, before his injury, was at an impressive six. The club captain also undermines the impression of his strong defensive abilities when we note that he has amassed a disappointing four defensive errors this season while his Brazilian counterpart has only managed one, despite only playing five fewer games.

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Oddly enough though, the story isn't as clear cut as that when we take a look at the average duel rates of both players.

Despite Gerrard being a much more attack-minded player throughout his career and even to an extent throughout this season too, he does actually seem to be a better tackler than Lucas, with an average tackle success rate of 50 per cent, while Leiva's sits at a lowly 43 per cent.

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Similarly, despite Gerrard being more prone to a defensive error this season, his average foul rate would suggest that he is much more inclined to be fouled than to actually illegally bringing a player down in open play, having committed only 64 per cent of the fouls he was involved in throughout the Premier League this season.

Leiva on the other hand, despite committing two fewer overall, has been at fault for 75 per cent of the fouls he was involved in.

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This would suggest that although Gerrard may be the more physical of the two players, with a stronger ability to win a tackle and less prone to committing a foul, Lucas is actually the more defensively aware midfielder in terms of ensuring he is in the right position to break up a play or to not be dispossessed.

We may not see Lucas thrown in straight away against Liverpool's fiercest rivals this coming Sunday at Old Trafford, but we shouldn't be waiting too long before Rodgers finds a spot for him in this side.

Of course the real question isn't when or where we'll see the Brazilian midfielder, but rather whose place will he take.

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