By Shikharr Chandra
Much has been made about Liverpool's stike force this season. The combination of Daniel Sturridge and Luiz Suarez or 'SAS' as they're frequently called, has lit up the Premier League this season with their impressive finishing, and in the Englishman's case, his goal celebration as well. The duo are the league's most prolific partnership and their splendid tally of 33 goals this campaign has seen them account for 63% of Liverpool's tally in the top division.
But despite their impressive form upfront what has been massively disappointing for Brendan Rodgers is how poorly his side have failed to defend.
The Reds drew 2-2 at Anfield against a lowly Aston Villa side, shifting the Merseyside club further from the top three and additionally, it allowed the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Everton to close in on that coveted fourth spot.
The game against Aston Villa saw Brendan Rodgers shift from his usual 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2 that saw Raheem Sterling and Phippe Coutinho in the wings with Suarez and Sturridge leading the attack. The shift from the 4-3-3 formation meant that one of Lucas Leiva, Jordan Henderson or Steven Gerrard had to be left out and ultimately Rodgers decided to omit the Brazilian from the playing eleven, which ultimately turned out to be an inopportune time to rotate the squad.
A central midfield pairing of Henderson and Gerrard meant that the side lacked protective cover in front of the back four as neither are accustomed to the role of a defensive midfielder. Paul Lambert though took full advantage of Liverpool's unbalanced midfield as the diamond he employed in the middle of the park alongwith the pacy forwards in Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor caught out Liverpool on the break.
Rodgers decided to shift things at half-time when he brought on Lucas in place of Coutinho. The Reds moved to a 4-3-3 approach with Lucas handling the defensive duties and Gerrard playing as the advanced midfielder, and it was not long before Liverpool were finally rewarded.
Gerrard, did what he does best as he played an exquisite 40-yard pass to Suarez who was brought down by Brad Guzan for a penalty. The captain converted it but it was not all good news for Rodgers who saw Lucas limping off again and had to be replaced by Joe Allen.
Liverpool were still in their more preferred 4-3-3 formation but once again the club lacked a natural defensive midfielder. Lucas's absence highlighted the club's desperate need to recruit cover for the Brazilian.
Apart from Lucas, none of Liverpool's central midfielders are defensive-minded players and even though Gerrard has been played as a more deep-lying midfielder, the England captain does not look suited for that role. Both Allen and Henderson are better off when it comes to going forward whereas the talented Luis Alberto is seen as more of a successor to Gerrard than Lucas.
One of Liverpool's major failures this season was their inability to add more depth to their side. For a club not participating in Europe this season, it was seen as a chance for the Reds to take advantage over their direct rivals in Tottenham and the other clubs with European commitments but Rodgers' failure to bring in cover for Lucas has hurt the team.
Even during Gerrard's injury at the early part of the season, the club's lack of depth was exposed but the presence of more natural replacements in Henderson and Allen allowed Rodgers to cope with the captain's loss but that might not be the case with Lucas this time around.
The Brazilian averages 3.9 tackles per game as compared to an average of 2.4 by the other three midfielders. Lucas's interception rate of 2.5 is almost doube that of Steven Gerrard whereas both Allen and Henderson are miles behind.
Lucas might not be the most talked about player in the Liverpool squad, or the kind of player who dominates headlines every week but it his sheer presence in the side that has allowed them to function equally well in attack and defense.
If there was ever a player who defines the term 'unsung hero' its Liverpool's Brazilian central midfielder.