Who do Liverpool play in defensive midfield with Gerrard, Lucas and Allen all available?

Liverpool Ball

Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva is nearing full fitness, but he may not go straight back into the side.

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva is nearing a return to full fitness after picking up a knee injury in the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa at Anfield in January.

His return to the side could give manager Brendan Rodgers a bit of a selection headache in midfield in the coming weeks as the Reds enter a crucial period in their quest to cement their place in the top four – and for their first league championship in 24 years.

Both Lucas and Joe Allen can play in the deeper midfield role but since the turn of the year, manager Brendan Rodgers has preferred to opt for Steven Gerrard in that position – as that’s where he sees the Liverpool captain best used between now and the rest of the season, at least.

All three have played that position so far this season, with Lucas making the most appearances in that role.

So, who should Liverpool play in the role when they’re all available in what promises to be a huge 11 games remaining in their season?

Liverpool have been vulnerable from set-pieces this season, so they could probably do without free-kicks being given away sparingly in order to avoid any of their opponents exploiting that particular weakness.

NameTeamPosmins / FoulsAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 74.35 23 1,933
Joe Allen Liverpool MF 70.80 14 708
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 40.92 19 1,555

But what is the reasons behind this? Could it be that Lucas has played in the role more often than both Gerrard and Allen - with at least 18 of his 19 appearances coming in the deeper midfield position? Or maybe even more challenges?

NameTeamPosmins / Total TackleAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 29.29 23 1,933
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 21.01 19 1,555
Joe Allen Liverpool MF 20.82 14 708

These statistics suggest that Lucas could brush up on his timing and tackling technique given that Joe Allen on average tackles slightly more for the amount of time he spends on the pitch. Though out of the three, would you be playing Steven Gerrard in that role if he isn't committing himself as much as the other two candidates for the role? However, he does get through more tackling during his defensive midfield duties - as the statistic below demonstrates ever since he undertook the role in Liverpool's 5-3 win over Stoke City in January - but not as much as Lucas or Allen.

NameTeamPosmins / Total TackleAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 22.00 7 616

The other key aspect is the amount of interceptions the players have made. Lucas is the man who is leading the way, which is of little surprise given he is more of a natural and more accustomed to the role, but Joe Allen's lack of interceptions would be a cause for concern if he were to play the role - as some could say the game passes him by from a positional point of view, and that he is better in possession rather than on the back foot.

NameTeamPosInterceptionAppsMins
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 48 19 1,555
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 31 23 1,933
Joe Allen Liverpool MF 12 14 708

Of course in that role they are likely to start the counter-attack given the way Liverpool play with plenty of pace and industry on the flanks as well as deadly finishers in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up front, so their first time ball forward is a useful asset to have. Lucas and Gerrard are streets ahead of Allen in this aspect of their game, mean if Joe Allen does have a place in the side it should be further forward and when trying to control possession.

NameTeamPosFwd Pass / appsAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 22.22 23 1,933
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 20.89 19 1,555
Joe Allen Liverpool MF 10.00 14 708

It all depends on whether Rodgers wants to upset the current make-up of the team by bringing Lucas back into the side, but he may feel the Brazilian being part of the starting XI could offer some solidity and break up the play effectively. 

Though if two of the three players were going to play, Liverpool could lose the industry of either Philippe Coutinho or Raheem Sterling - with Rodgers highly unlikely to sacrifice Jordan Henderson's work rate in the middle of the park.

image: © banoootah_qtr

Register for LIVERPOOL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch