Not so long ago Lucas Leiva was a figure of ridicule, to many symptomatic of Liverpool’s problems. Signed for big-money from Gremio, the youngster had arrived on Merseyside with an equally big reputation, signed by no one other than Rafael Benitez.
The Brazilian struggled to play regularly initially and then failed to impress when the doors to opportunities finally opened. He was just another overhyped South American who was destined to fail in the Premier League.
How things have changed! Injuries severely hampered him in 2011-12, but for the past two seasons under Brendan Rodgers the Brazil international has grown in stature. This campaign, he has been one of the unsung heroes of the Reds’ Premier League title challenge. Injuries have affected him once again, but the midfielder has returned to full fitness at just the right time.
Lucas has largely been used in a defensive role during his time at Liverpool, although at Gremio he exhibited a more attacking mindset. This term the 27-year-old has been given the freedom to march forward by Rodgers, a role in which he has flourished.
The Brazilian explains that taking on a more attacking role and playing in front of club captain Steven Gerrard in midfield came naturally to him. Many players would be daunted by the prospect of changing their positions, but Lucas knew that he would not struggle at all. In fact, he relishes having attacking responsibilities.
‘I played there (in a diamond formation) for Gremio’, he told Liverpool’s official website. ‘We used to play a lot of time in a diamond. We had a holding midfielder, a playmaker, then me - more box-to-box. The playmaker did not run forward so much, but I had the energy and freedom to join the attack.
‘It's pretty much the same Brendan asks here if we play in a diamond. Yes, you have to look after the full-backs and, when the ball is on the other side of the pitch, help outside the holding midfielder. You also have to keep the ball but contribute to the attack.
‘We sat down in January, where he explained that he wanted to use Stevie as a holding player and me on the side of the three midfielders or the diamond. I had to re-adjust. It's something I feel comfortable with. Of course, as much as you play you feel even more comfortable. You know you can help more. Football is like that. The team is doing so well and it is difficult for the manager to change things. You understand that. I know that the only way is to train hard and prepare. Lots of players this season have had chances when they did not expect it’.