Lucas LeivaLucas Leiva is hoping to have the last laugh when he stands on opposite sides of the pitch to national teammate and Zenit St. Petersburg star Hulk on Thursday night.

The powerful forward gave the Russians a 1-0 advantage 70 minutes into the first leg last week, with substitute Sergei Semak doubling that lead shortly after.

It leaves the Reds with a difficult challenge in the return encounter at Anfield if they are to progress into the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League.

The Liverpool midfielder revealed he has not swapped notes with Hulk pregame but dearly wants to be smiling when the pair meet after the tie.

“We are close, especially as we had the chance to play a few times in the national team,” the 26-year-old told reporters at Anfield on Wednesday. “He scored a good goal against us. They are taking the competition very seriously. Hulk is an important player for them, but he didn’t give me any news because, of course, he wants to win the game the same as me. Tomorrow we’ll have a friendly chat after the game and hopefully I’ll be happier than him.

“It is a competition that we always wanted to do well in. We know about the special European nights at Anfield that the crowd give us. It will be an important game for us going forward this season; we really believe that we can get through to the next stage. Hopefully tomorrow the crowd will give us a special night, we will play well and get through.

“We need to score goals but also to play with a defensive mentality because to concede a goal makes it even harder for us. We need to try to find a balance tomorrow. I’m sure the approach will be good and hopefully it will be another good night to remember.”

A third Brazilian was discussed during the briefing at the club’s trophy room — January signing Philippe Coutinho.

Lucas was keen to avoid comparisons with samba stars of years gone by but pledged to help the 20-year-old settle into Liverpool life as quickly as possible.

“He is a very talented player, still very young but with a lot of experience,” the midfielder said of Coutinho. “He left Brazil when he was 18 and played a few seasons in Italy and Spain. We can expect a lot of things from him but we should give him the time that he will need to adapt to the Premier League and the pace of the game.

“In the game against Swansea we could see a lot of positives from him; the goal just gives him confidence to keep going. We hope he settles very quickly and starts to play really well for the club.

“We know he has a lot of ability and skills — I always say he’s a proper Brazilian, that the fans were probably expecting when I came. Now we have a second one that will be able to show these skills.

“I feel like a father, to be honest. He doesn’t speak much English. He came in the same situation as when I came to Liverpool — very young, doesn’t understand the language.

“I’m just trying to help him to settle very quickly and make him feel comfortable. That’s what I got when I came so that’s the most important thing now. Make him feel comfortable and he’ll be able to show his talent on the pitch.”

Asked about his current fitness, Lucas explained that he now feels “very close” to the level he was at before being struck down by injury twice.

“I’m very close to where I was,” the Brazilian added. “It has been a good three or four months since my last injury. There are still a few things to improve but I’m very close to where I want to be. Games that I’m playing will help me get back to the level that I was.”

One player who seems to have been operating at his maximum performance for years is Steven Gerrard. Lucas is not surprised that the Liverpool skipper has maintained his personal levels, though.

“I’ve been playing with him for six years already and every week we can see Stevie still has the hunger to win games and be the special player that he has always been for the club,” said the midfielder. “He’s playing in a different position than he used to a few years ago and he’s still able to change the game. I’m just very happy that we have him on the team — his leadership always makes our life easier.

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