Liverpool’s greatest fears were confirmed Thursday when Lucas was ruled out for the rest of the season. Manager Kenny Dalglish has several options as he looks to compensate for the loss of his most influential midfielder to an ACL injury.
The 24-year-old Brazilian had been in outstanding form over the last 18 months, but now faces at least six months on the sidelines. This is a most serious test of Dalglish’s managerial acumen as he tries to guide Liverpool to a top-four finish without a key figure in the team.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Lucas’ work-rate, tackling, passing accuracy and positioning to the club. Few players in the world can match his mix of qualities. Should the four-time league champion (as a manger) look for a like-for-like replacement within his current squad? Or should he explore the transfer market for a solution.
Jay Spearing, who partnered with Lucas in Tuesday’s win over Chelsea, is often the first name mentioned. The 23-year-old holding midfielder has a beautiful simplicity to his game but lacks experience. He has made just 32 appearances for the Reds over three seasons and will likely endure peaks and dips in form as he finds his footing in the first team.
Liverpool recalled Jonjo Shelvey from his loan spell at Blackpool on Wednesday. The 19-year-old is more of an all-action, box-to-box midfielder than Spearing or Lucas. Dalglish could use him in the role by demanding the former Charlton Athletic man remains tactically disciplined. It would be a tall order for such a young player.
Jordan Henderson’s name also appears among the possible replacements. The 21-year-old has loads of pace, stamina and toughness that could stifle opponents’ attacks. He is also becoming more comfortable with his teammates, having made 16 appearances so far this season. However, the £16 million ($25.5 million) summer signing is prone to straying from his position and — like any player his age — needs to improve his anticipation and reading of the game.
Liverpool‘s 31-year-old captain Steve Gerrard is expected to return to action around Christmas and presents an intriguing option. The veteran midfielder spent much of his career bombing around the field from attacking positions, but could reinvent himself as a player and build up his fitness in a holding role. Gerrard is vastly experienced, an intelligent reader of the game and can still pass the ball 40 yards. He’s fit and he’s pretty hard as well.
Dalglish could decide to completely remake his midfield, altering players and formations.
With money to spend, he could also go shopping in the January transfer market. He could bring a still-developing star to Anfield, offering him immediate playing time. This player would then challenge Lucas (and those mentioned above) for a place in the team next season. The Reds’ boss could also go with a rental option, bringing in a proven destroyer with the knowledge that he would be a Liverpool player for a year or two.
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