x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Time for Lucas to silence his critics

One thing Rafa Benitez has shown during his five years in charge of Liverpool is that he does not back down from what he believes in.

One thing Rafa Benitez has shown during his five years in charge of Liverpool is that he does not back down from what he believes in. His power struggle with the club's board is testament to that, as is his persistence with the 4-5-1 formation that almost won the Premier League title last season. Once the Spaniard makes up his mind, he sticks with it. But after two defeats in three games this season, questions are being asked of Liverpool, particularly about the quality of certain members of his squad.

Lucas Leiva, the Brazilian defensive midfielder has been the principle target of criticism. By selling Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid and with Alberto Aquilani, the £20 million (Dh120m) signing from Roma, injured Benitez has started with Lucas in midfield in all three league games so far. The Brazilian has a pedigree that should earmark him as a star of the future. He became the youngest player, at 19, to be awarded the Bola de Ouro as his country's Player of the Year.

Zico, Falcao and Kaka were among the previous winners. It prompted Liverpool to pay Gremio £6m for him a year later and Benitez has groomed him for an influential role. Two games towards the end of last season showed a glimpse of Lucas' quality. He started in the 4-1 triumph at Manchester United and again when he scored with a deflected strike in the thrilling 4-4 Champions League quarter-final second leg draw at Chelsea.

An own-goal in Monday's 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa did not quieten his critics, but he put in a commanding performance in the previous game against Stoke. Benitez needs the likes of Lucas to help Liverpool rid their reputation of being a two-man team, reliant on the midfielder-striker tandem of captain Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. There is a fear that Alonso will be hard to replace. Lucas is confident that he can take on the extra responsibility.

"I have a different type of game to Xabi. He played a bit deeper than me, but his passing was brilliant," he said. "I have learnt from working with him, and Javier [Mascherano] and Stevie [Gerrard] too. "They are great players, but I have the confidence to take his place. I am ready. "We will miss Xabi, but I think we have to forget now. We have to look forward and we all have to play our part. It's like we cannot just give the responsibility for Fernando [Torres] or Stevie for the goals all the time. We have to try to do it as a team."

Liverpool today travel to face a Bolton side who have lost both their opening games. It is the perfect chance for Lucas to back up his words with actions. akhan@thenational.ae Bolton v Liverpool, KO 6pm, Showsports 1 & 2