20 October 2011

Lucas: The Holding Midfielder

With Lucas suspended for Saturday, having already picked up five bookings (four in the league, one in the Carling Cup), I thought I'd take a look at how his defending has matured since becoming a regular starter in 2009-10.

Lucas appeared in 35 league matches (32 starts, three subs) in 2009-10, 33 (32 starts, one sub) in 2010-11, and in all eight so far this season.

The above shows a natural evolution for a still-young foreign player becoming accustomed to the league and receiving more responsibility in each successive season. He's made more tackles, both successful and attempted, and has markedly improved tackling percentage without a subsequent increase in fouls committed. But can we call it "maturation" with Lucas incurring so many more bookings this season?

Lucas didn't pick up his first league booking in '10-11 until Liverpool's 12th game: at Wigan on November 10. In '09-10, his first league booking came in Liverpool's 13th game: against City on November 21. His first this season came in the second match, at Arsenal, followed up with cards against Wolves, Everton, and United in the last three fixtures.

I have two theories for the increase in yellow cards. First, he's had far more cleaning up to do when paired with Adam in midfield, which also partly accounts for his increase in tackles. Second, due to his increased visibility, referees are simply paying far more attention to the player. I like the second excuse. It has just the right conspiratorial mix of "it's not his fault" and "it's the referee's fault." There are probably elements of truth in both.

His 111 successful tackles and 172 attempted tackles led the league in both categories last season. If he plays the same number of fixtures as last season, he's on pace for 144 successful tackles and 198 attempted tackles.

There is one disclaimer in regards to Lucas' 2010-11 numbers. As with everything last season, there's a clear difference between Lucas under Hodgson and Lucas under Dalglish. In his 17 matches under Dalglish (compared to playing in 16 of Hodgson's 20), Lucas averaged 4.06 successful tackles, 5.94 attempted tackles, 2.06 fouls committed, and 0.18 yellow cards per match. Significantly more successful and attempted tackles, slightly more fouls committed, but fewer yellow cards. That tackling percentage works out to 68.3%, similar to his '09-10 number.

It's not as if Lucas played with a less-defensive partner under Dalglish last season, as with Adam so far in this. Lucas' usual partner in last campaign's run-in was Spearing; he was usually paired with Gerrard, Meireles, or (less frequently) Poulsen under Hodgson. Like with many at the club, Dalglish has been good for the player, and Lucas has responded in kind.

Now, if he could just cut back on the bookings. Liverpool can't have him missing many games this season.

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