It's a dark irony that in just 20 minutes Lucas underlined his crucial influence to Liverpool and then suffered ligament damage to his troublesome knees. Squeezed out of a gung-ho starting lineup against Villa, the Brazilian came on at half-time and immediately provided a calming influence on the middle of the park... only to be knocked out of action for the next several months (or is it next few weeks?!?).
The effect here is that the size of the hole in the squad should now be clearly apparent to those at the helm of the Big Red Ship. The squad could have used another midfielder before his injury, now another holding midfielder is an absolute necessity should the club want to win the Wenger Cup. If there is a bright side, it is that at least the silly season is upon us and the club is free to acquire a capable replacement. The brighter bright side here, is that this replacement won't be Nigel De Jong - who, in my mind, should be buried in a prison at the bottom of the ocean floor for all of eternity like the Titans in the Disney animated version of Hercules.
The following is my humble opinion of three players that could fill the Brazilian's void and seem to fit the profile of the club's transfer strategy - excluding, of course, summer 2012 when the strategy was "paralyzing anarchy that ruins our season before it begins."
Milan Badelj - Hamburg
The Croatian midfield general has been one of the few positives for a struggling Hamburg side this term. Defensively, Badelj's four tackles and two and a half interceptions per game reflect the combination of tenacity and intelligence you want from a holding midfielder. In possession, the 24 year old is completing passes at an 81% clip and shows a solid passing range with four and a half long balls per match. In terms of the "controller" role that Rodgers applied to Steven Gerrard's new position, I think Badelj would be the better fit. Intelligent in positioning and tidy in possession (three and a half dribbles each game speaks to his technique on the ball), the former Dynamo Zagreb star could free the Captain and Hendo to control proceedings in the final third.
Badelj's club situation makes his potential transfer even more appealing. Played at a similar tempo, the Bundesliga is just as competitive as the Premier League and would conceivably allow Badelj to adjust rather quickly. Moreover, with Hamburg languishing in 14th place (just two points above 16th placed Freiburg and the relegation playoff position), a move to an in-form Liverpool side challenging for a place in next year's Champions League would have to be enticing. As Badelj's contract expires in the summer of 2015, Hamburg would have to consider cashing in before the midfielder's value further decreases.
Morgan Schneiderlin - Southampton
Born in France but developed in England, Schneiderlin needs no introduction to Premier League followers. The midfielder has been a stalwart for the Saints under both Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino and his stats make it easy to see why. With just under four tackles and two interceptions per game, the Frenchman is a rock alongside Victor Wanyama in the center of the park. With the ball, the former Strasbourg trainee is completing 52 passes per match at a remarkable 88% success rate. Considering Rodgers demands distributive efficiency from his midfielders, Schneiderlin's punctuality would certainly be a good fit.
The midfielder's talent is no secret and he's had his host of admirers since he's been playing in the top flight. Unsurprisingly, Southampton has been reluctant to sell and, more importantly, the player has caused little fuss in trying to leave. There are, however, two factors working in Liverpool's favor should the Reds try to pursue a deal. First, after starting the season in brilliant form, the Saints have plummeted from the higher reaches of the table and are now nestled in ninth place. Building upon this, despite being capped at all youth levels for France, Schneiderlin has yet to make an appearance for the senior squad. A half season ruling the roost in Liverpool's midfield would be tough for Didier Deschamps to ignore and would at least give the player an outside chance of stealing a ticket to Brazil this summer.
Pedro Obiang - Sampdoria
Last but not least, we have young Spaniard Pedro Obiang. Obiang's breakthrough into Sampdoria's first team came in 2011/2012 when he helped the club achieve promotion back to Serie A at the first attempt. Since then, he's yet to lose his place in the squad and has even made two appearances for a Spain U-21 team that wouldn't look out of place at this summer's World Cup.
Statistically, Obiang is the least impressive of the trio. His three and a half tackles and lone interception per match hint at a young player still learning his trade. On the ball, the 21 year old is completing 41 passes per contest at a respectable 80.5% success rate. There is some range to Obiang's game, as his three long balls per match demonstrate, and while he won't draw any comparisons to Xavi, his technique on the ball certainly hints at his Spanish passport.
The comparison may not be to Xavi, but watching Obiang nimbly twirl away from a defender before his massive strides take him flying up-field can make you think you're watching Paul Pogba. Obviously, Obiang isn't at the French phenom's level, but it's this combination of technique and athleticism that has the scouts circling. Whether a comfortably mid-table Sampdoria is willing to sell however, is a different matter. Spurs have apparently been told to buzz off, while Manchester City can afford to be patient and pay for the finished product rather than the raw talent.
Well, I think most will agree that Schneiderlin would be preferred pick of this crop. Already in the Premier League and in a style that seems perfectly-tuned to BR's philosophy, the Saint could immediately slot infor Lucas and play alongside him upon his return. He also would cost quite a bit of money and, I imagine, Pochettino would rather listen to Roy Hodgson motivational tapes on a continuous loop than sell his midfield cog in January.
For his part, Obiang is less ready than Badelj and Schneiderlin - both of whom would be solid first 11 additions upon arrival - and he projects to be more of a box-to-box type than strict pivot man. Unlike that pair however, Obiang has the potential to be a superstar in the long-term while still being a decent contributor in the present. Whether Liverpool really needs more potential in a squad reliant upon the inconsistent talents of P-Funk, Raheem Sterling, and Jordan Henderson is a legitimate question. Further, considering Obiang would also come with a hefty price tag, a summer move, if anything, would be more likely.
That leaves us with Badelj, a very solid player who is just reaching the peak of his career. His game, club status, and contract length all seem to point in a positive direction for a potential Liverpool swoop. Now, if someone would just get me the direct line to BR.