Spearing, Henderson, Maxi & more - who can Kenny Dalglish rely on to plug the Lucas-shaped hole in Liverpool's midfield?

The Brazilian has been ruled out for the season with a serious knee injury sustained against Chelsea and leaves his manager with a difficult decision to make in replacing him
ANALYSIS
By David Lynch

If Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva can take one positive from the news of his season ending injury, it is the outpouring of dismay amongst the club’s fans which belies his true worth. The thought that a six-month layoff due to an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury could be described as the most encouraging moment thus far of any footballer’s career is a strange one, and yet it is quite possibly true in this case.

The Brazilian endured a difficult settling in period at Anfield before finally gaining deserved respect for a committed attitude and consistently improved performances in recent times. Yet his manager Kenny Dalglish is now finding that the former Gremio man’s development into a genuine top-class midfielder has brought with it a fresh difficulty - trying to replace him in his absence.

THE UNDERSTUDY                                                   JAY SPEARING 


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Perhaps at the front of the queue to take Lucas’ place is a man who partnered him in the game against Chelsea in which his season was ended. Wirral-born Jay Spearing has spent years on the fringes of the Reds squad before Dalglish, a man who clearly believes in his talents, took the reins. In numerous cameos since the Scot’s arrival, Spearing has shown plenty of willingness in the tackle and reasonable quality on the ball, which might suggest he is a ready-made deputy.

Though he may not be as efficient in moving the ball forward from deep as his midfield colleague, the 23-year-old brings the benefit of allowing Liverpool to maintain their favoured system without a huge reshuffle. He is of a similar mould to Lucas and therefore would not require defensive compensation in other areas which the alternative options present.

THE ROOKIE                                                          JONJO SHELVEY


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Another young midfielder who could vie for the vacated midfield position is the recently recalled Jonjo Shelvey. Tender in years at just 19 years old, Shelvey is an inexperienced option for Dalglish to ponder but has proved in his loan spell at Blackpool that he has no shortage of potential quality. In just 10 league appearances for the Tangerines, Shelvey scored six goals and became a mainstay of Ian Holloway’s midfield unit which once housed team-mate Charlie Adam.

However, whilst these figures are undoubtedly impressive, they may not point to a man ready to shore up a midfield which has lost its anchor. The former Charlton man is viewed more as a long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard in the halls of Melwood, and it is with this in mind that he is unlikely to be expected to wear the shackles of a defensive role.

THE BIG SIGNING                                         JORDAN HENDERSON


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A player being similarly groomed for an attacking role is England under-21 star, Jordan Henderson. He has appeared in the majority of the Merseyside outfit’s league games this season, but in an unfamiliar right-wing role. That Dalglish wishes to shoehorn the ex-Sunderland star into his starting XI says much about the potential he is believed to possess, yet there are question marks about his suitability to fulfil a holding role. His last outing in this deeper position, for the England senior team, produced a performance not befitting his talent and is perhaps the reason he is yet to gain further recognition from Fabio Capello.

THE IN-FORM MAN                                             MAXI RODRIGUEZ


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Dalglish then may wish to look solely to those in form to fulfil the needs of his team and, if this is the case, then he need look no further than Maxi Rodriguez. The Argentine midfielder has 10 goals in his last six league appearances for the Reds, a remarkable record which suggests he should perhaps be a more permanent fixture within the starting XI. Given that the Reds have a favourable run of fixtures approaching, and that they have already amassed a worrying amount of league draws, an all-out attacking approach may well tempt their coaching staff. The 30-year-old has played in every position across a midfield four in a storied career and has proved willing to grasp every opportunity given to him at Liverpool, meaning he could well force his way into a rearranged engine room.

 THE WILDCARD                                                      DANIEL AGGER


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Followers of Liverpool who like their tactical decisions from left field, however, could well see Daniel Agger as the man to fill the vacant position. For a centre-half, the Dane shows remarkable quality on the ball and a change in his position could allow the fit-again Jamie Carragher back into the heart of the Reds defence. Though Agger’s ability to perform in this role is undoubted, whether or not his manager will want to make changes in a defence which has been increasingly solid in recent weeks is improbable. The fact the 26-year-old is so good at what he does is argument enough to allow him to continue there, despite what that means for a club legend in Carragher.

The Reds could of course be preparing for a January move to fill the hole that now exists in their midfield but, with a busy Christmas fixture list approaching, Dalglish has an important and increasingly immediate decision to make about those who currently comprise his squad. The most like for like replacement is Jay Spearing - a 'Lucas lite' who has the perfect opportunity to convince that he can be the midfield marauder required in the first team, at least until Steven Gerrard fully recovers from his recent injury setbacks to take up a place in the centre, most likely alongside Charlie Adam. Should Spearing falter - or even be deemed unready for the challenge - his wily manager has plenty of other options to consider...

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