I couldn't be happier to see praise for Lucas echo around the internet after his dominating performance against the league leaders yesterday. Passing, tackling, interceptions, the whole package. It's as if he suddenly turned a corner.
Oh, wait. Those are his passing statistics against Manchester United in March 2009. This is yesterday's chalkboard.
And this is a comparison of his tackles in the two matches.
Now, the above could be an example of how statistics never tell a full story. And Lucas was comparatively better yesterday: more incisive forward passes, more tackles attempted and won, with a far bigger role than he had in March 2009. I remember being impressed by that Lucas' performance almost 20 months ago, but nowhere near as impressed as I was by his all-around dynamism yesterday. He's frequently been better against bigger opposition, but never 'grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck' as he did yesterday. You didn't see YouTube compilations like this after the United match.
In addition, there were vast differences in the two victories. Yesterday's win came be summed up by perseverance, a willingness to work until legs fell off, and two superlative strikes from Torres. This season's Liverpool is a side struggling for form, swimming against an incoming tide. In contrast, the victory over United was utter domination after the Mancs opened the scoring, with Liverpool in the middle of a streak where they played some of their best football ever under Benitez.
But the point remains. No matter how impressive he was against Chelsea, deserving every bit of praise he's come in for, it wasn't his first rodeo. He's deserved criticism in the past, on a steep learning coming from Brazil at the age of 20. I can't and won't pretend he hasn't made some mistakes, and has had to improve every aspect of his game. There have been growing pains every step of the way. Yet people seem to forget he's still only 23, held to a higher standard than many players at a similar age, especially foreign ones still adapting to a different style of play and massively different culture. Central midfield in the Premier League is an unforgiving position. But the kid's strength of character, replying to boos from the Anfield faithful by putting his head down and working harder, always led me to believe that growth was possible. Not to mention that he's been one of Liverpool's most consistent players for more than a year now, although that's admittedly not much to gloat over after the year Liverpool's had.
What I'm trying to hammer home is that yesterday wasn't the first time he's shone in a Liverpool shirt, even if it was his best overall performance. And, with Liverpool needing the young man to play an increasingly larger role, I'm fairly certain it won't be the last.