Comparison: Lucas v Gerrard - who is the better holding midfield player?

Lucas Leiva

Steven Gerrard playing the defensive midfield role has meant that Lucas Leiva has had to watch from the sidelines and settle for substitute appearances ever since his return from injury.

In the first half of the season, Liverpool played Lucas Leiva in the defensive midfield position but after Steven Gerrard’s return from injury, Brendan Rodgers decided he wanted the Liverpool captain to occupy the role.

Of course it has had its teething problems – notably the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa at Anfield where Gerrard looked exposed – but Gerrard has been playing in that role during a spell which has seen Liverpool win eight games on the bounce and propel themselves into top spot.

Lucas getting injured in the game again Aston Villa meant he hasn’t been able to rival Gerrard for that position until he came on as a substitute at Old Trafford in the 3-0 win over Manchester United in the middle of March, but he hasn't been able to start. Nevertheless it led the Liverpool boss paying tribute to the Brazilian for his attitude, saying that he is ready whenever if he is called upon, whether it's for one minute or 90.

The key roles of a defensive midfielder tends to be winning challenges and finding the accurate pass to launch an attack or to keep the side in possession – so here is a comparison between the two when they have played that role this season:

NameTeamPosAccurate Pass / appsAppsMins
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 58.71 17 1,444
NameTeamPosAccurate Pass / appsAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 48.83 12 1,043

This is an interesting statistic but probably not surprising. Some would argue that Lucas outperforms Gerrard in this area as he finds a red shirt on more occasions than the Liverpool captain when he is in possession. However, one would argue the type of passes that Lucas plays are very simple and safe and that he will just find the nearest, available red shirt.  Whereas the main point of deploying Gerrard in the role was to have him acting almost like a quarterback, and to use his passing range to pick out players 30 or 40 yards away from him. That's probably the reason he has less accurate passes per game, and why he has created big chances from that position, and Lucas hasn't.

NameTeamPosBig Chance CreatedAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 2 12 1,043

Now, if any player is going to play in the holding role, they are going to have be prepared to get stuck into a challenge and neither Lucas or Gerrard are shy of getting stuck in, just look at their yellow card counts [Gerrard 7-5 Lucas in the Premier League], which has led to the Liverpool skipper walking a tightrope to try and avoid a two game suspension. But Lucas is the man who is winning more tackles on average - though that might be down to him being more accustomed to the role and playing it for longer.

NameTeamPosWon Tackle / appsAppsMins
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 2.94 17 1,444
NameTeamPosWon Tackle / appsAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 2.33 12 1,043

There is also the tight physical battle with opposition players on the ball, and again it's Lucas that seems to win more duels per game as he averages nearly 1.5 more duels won per game than Gerrard. Though some would argue it may have dropped in the past couple of games as the Liverpool skipper has looked to keep himself available for the rest of the run-in due to his accumulation of yellow cards.    

NameTeamPosDuel Won / appsAppsMins
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 7.71 17 1,444
NameTeamPosDuel Won / appsAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 6.25 12 1,043

But one area where Gerrard does edge it over Lucas is effectively clearing the ball away from the danger zone, which probably suggests that Liverpool's talisman is more effective in terms of his positioning to collect possession. It is also backed up by the statistic that on average Gerrard makes more blocks than Lucas per game [0.46 compared to 0.33 for the Brazilian]. 

NameTeamPosEffective Clearance / appsAppsMins
Lucas Leiva Liverpool MF 2.59 17 1,444
NameTeamPosEffective Clearance / appsAppsMins
Steven Gerrard Liverpool MF 2.83 12 1,043

Of course there are other aspects. Gerrard is in the side to play that role as he dictates from a deeper position and is probably learning more and more about the defensive role whereas Lucas has been playing the role since Rafa Benitez was manager. Gerrard position has got gradually deeper as he has got older but during this spell the onus has been on him to protect the back line by himself.

It's a tough one to decide who is better, but it's good for Brendan Rodgers that he has two esteemed players who can fulfil that role very well, and sometimes in different ways.

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