Last season seemingly proved that Liverpool are a vastly different, weaker side without Lucas. With Liverpool's captain back to full fitness as well, still the only Liverpool player to feature in every minute of every league match, this season is proving that Steven Gerrard is also a far better player when paired with Lucas.
Since Lucas's return, Gerrard's attacking statistics have improved in almost every category. More shots, more shots on target, slightly more chances created, more passes, and a higher pass accuracy. He's averaging fewer attacking third passes since the Brazilian's return, but completing a higher percentage of them.
At the same time, Lucas' return has freed him from some defensive duty, averaging fewer tackles and interceptions, and without a single defensive error in the last nine matches after making one against Newcastle and one against Swansea.
Incidentally, I'd love to know the methodology for WhoScored and Squawka's player ratings, but both have been almost totally in line – for Gerrard and others – with my initial opinions during the respective matches. And, it goes without saying, both sites (along with FourFourTwo's StatsZone if you have an iPhone or iPad) are incredibly valuable resources.
There is, however, one major caveat. The average current league position of the 13 sides Liverpool faced during Lucas' absence is 9th. The average position of the nine sides Liverpool faced since Lucas' return is 13th. Yes, Liverpool have obviously improved of late, partly due to continued overall progress, Lucas' return, Gerrard's improvement, and the acquisition of Daniel Sturridge, but they've also played "easier" matches since the beginning of December.
Liverpool's matches will get harder, and quickly, with trips to Arsenal and Manchester City in the next two league fixtures. Whether Gerrard can continue his recent form will go a long way in deciding how Liverpool fare in those matches and for the rest of the season.