Aston Villa had to hold Liverpool to a 2-2 draw at Anfield, despite being 2-0 up and seemingly in complete control of the first half.
Villa raced into a two goal lead, capitalising on a disjointed Liverpool midfield and walking through at ease. It could have been far worse for the Reds as the visitors were guilty of passing up further opportunities to extend their lead before Daniel Sturridge fired in a vitally important goal just before half time.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was deployed in a holding role alongside Henderson, with Coutinho and Sterling supporting strikers Suarez and Sturridge. However, without the presence of the naturally defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva, Gerrard was found wanting during the first 45 minutes, admitting to his own downfall:
"They put a lot of men around me. Every time I tried to get the ball under control they swamped me in the first half.
"It didn't work for myself or the team. I openly admit that it wasn't one of my better 45 minutes, but I improved after the break with the team and we managed to get back in it, but it's still two points dropped for us."
Throughout the ninety minutes, Gerrard touched the ball 62 times, making just 42 passes with a completion rate of 74% - Liverpool’s third lowest excluding goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Yet, it wasn’t just Gerrard’s passing that was off. As a holding midfielder, the captain failed to make a single interception and completed just three successful tackles.
On the other hand, Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva has excelled for Liverpool in that position, and his inclusion at half time allowed Gerrard to push further forward, resulting in Liverpool being far the better side in the second half and getting something out of the game.
The Brazilian international midfielder has started 17 Premier League games for the Reds this year, averaging 60.8 passes – 18 more than Gerrard today – coupled with an average pass success rate of 91.3%.
Lucas Leiva’s ball ability is evident, however he is additionally as good as anyone in the Premier League at breaking up the play, which is vitally important to Brendan Rodgers’ possession based side. Totalling 48 interceptions and 74 tackles over the season – an average of 3.9 per game, the midfielder’s average compared with Gerrard’s display against Villa completely puts into perspective just how important Lucas Leiva is to Liverpool’s hopes of a top four finish.
How important is Lucas Leiva to Liverpool’s top four hopes? When the Brazilian is unavailable, who is the best player to take his place?