lucasJust 12 months ago, the very thought that a serious injury to Lucas Leiva would plunge Liverpool fans into a state of intense introspection would have been faintly laughable. This was, after all, the Brazilian with no discernible talent, the biggest joker on Merseyside since Jimmy Tarbuck. Yet another Rafa Benitez flop.
There was a time in the not so distant past when even the staunchest
Liverpool supporters thought him a dreadful player, an affront to the
club's stylish identity that was so gloriously carved in the 1960s, 70s
and 80s. ED remembers repeated occasions when he was lambasted by Reds
fans for his inability to make the ball talk; instead producing muted
performance after muted performance.
But on Thursday, confirmation that Lucas will indeed miss the remainder of the season due to an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee was greeted with loud consternation. Indeed, it generated more Twitter-angst amongst the red half of the city than a debate about Mr Benitez's net-spend statistics.
The midfielder confirmed the news Liverpool fans had been hoping they would be spared, tweeting: "Hi ALL. Just to confirm that I will be out until the rest of season. I am really sad with the news because I was enjoying a lot on the pitch.
"I am sure I will come back stronger and I will achieve everything that I dream with the LFC shirt. I am sure I'll NEVER WALK ALONE."
The news comes as a savage blow to a player who has been in excellent form of late and Early Doors was desperately disappointed to hear that Liverpool's worst-case scenario had been realised after early suggestions the player had indeed suffered a serious injury. And cruciate ligament issues are about as serious as they come.
The reason that the news has been so dismally received is that over the past year or so there has been a seismic shift in the way Lucas is perceived, both by Liverpool fans and the general football public.
Through his own determination and application he has become less of a Salif Diao and more of a Didi Hamann and has been rightly applauded for the impressive transformation he has overseen in his public image.
This season he has been a constant in a sea of midfield imponderables at Anfield. Surrounded by new players like Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing - who are yet to truly demonstrate they are Liverpool quality - Lucas has been a beacon of ultra-consistency, even more so than captain Steven Gerrard, whose persistent fitness problems and positional uncertainty have surely created something of a dilemma for Dalglish.
Quite simply, Lucas has been one of Liverpool's leading individuals over the past year, arguably second only to Luis Suarez, and as such his absence for the rest of the season will be keenly felt.
In fact, with a natural deputy conspicuous by his absence, Lucas's serious injury could prove a fatal blow to Liverpool's aspirations of reclaiming a place in the top four this season. Given Arsenal's recent resurgence and Tottenham's persistent good form in the league, it would have been a tough ask in any case.
Statistics underline just how big a setback this is for Liverpool. Such is the importance Lucas has assumed with his industry and ability to break up play in the middle of the park, Dalglish's side's win percentage when he starts this season is 48 per cent; without him in the side that drops to 29 per cent.
To further underline his importance, the omnipotent OptaJoe tweeted on Thursday: "68. Lucas Leiva has made the most tackles in the Premier League this season. Blow."
Because strangely enough after a summer that witnessed Kenny Dalglish convince John W Henry that when applied to football, Moneyball principles dictate a necessity to collect average midfielders, Liverpool now look somewhat light in the department.
Jonjo Shelvey has been recalled from a loan spell at Blackpool, but Jay Spearing does not look particularly ready to assume Lucas's responsibilities and summer acquisitions Charlie Adam and Henderson would not be naturals in the ball-winning role.
Raul Meireles has performed in a withdrawn role to good effect this season of course, but over at Stamford Bridge, rather than Anfield, following that curious transfer of his on deadline day.
Early Doors reckons the most likely candidate to drop back would surely be Adam, imitating Xabi Alonso's function at Real Madrid, but performing it with considerably less elan. At least then he can get a better view of the pitch as he attempts to unleash another pass that is so Hollywood it has its own agent and publicist.
The answer must be to go into the transfer market in January and convince Henry and his pals to open up that chequebook once again. Having the engine ripped from your side surely necessitates quick, decisive action.
The loss of Lucas might not pinch immediately given that Liverpool's generous December contains fixtures against Fulham, QPR, Aston Villa, Wigan, Blackburn and Newcastle, but it certainly will be felt over the next six months.
Liverpool's world may implode without him, and who would have said that 12 months ago?
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I told the lads I'm going to grow long hair if we draw England. It would be fantastic. You might remember the goalkeeper who played against England in 1973. You should all remember him. So I'll grow the long hair and try to do the job as well as he did. I might have to wear a wig because there won't be enough time to grow it." - Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny warns England he will be ready to emulate Jan Tomaszewski, who ended England's hopes of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup despite being described as "a clown" by Brian Clough, if Poland are drawn against Fabio Capello's side at Euro 2012 later on Friday.
GOOD NEWS STORY OF THE DAY: "It is great news I have signed a contract. It is great to be back and I am looking forward to the future. I take it week by week and it is a slow process. I am still not out of rehabilitation but I am playing 90-minute games and feeling really fit. I have progressed from a month of three days training and then a day off to four days training and then a day off, so everything is going really well. It is important now to stick to the plan and listen to the doctors and progress from there." - Sam Hutchinson, who initially retired from football in August 2010 due to chronic injury, has signed a new deal to return to Chelsea having shown great determination to get back to fitness.
FOREIGN VIEW: "He took the wrong pill. Instead of taking the pill for before bedtime, he took his morning pill. He got confused and he doesn't know what he's saying... I suggest that next time he takes the right medication before he starts to speak, and that he changes his doctor." - Diego Maradona, who else, bristles at suggestions by Pele that Neymar is "much better" than Lionel Messi.
COMING UP: There is the small matter of the draw for the Euro 2012 finals, which takes place in Kiev at 5pm GMT. We will have full live coverage of the glitzy ceremony as England get drawn against Spain and Portugal and wave goodbye to their hopes of getting out of the group stage.
After we bring you the result of our Goal of the Week poll, Jim White and Paul Parker will be filing their latest columns ahead of the weekend, while the Fantasist will be popping in this afternoon to conduct his latest Fantasy chat.
Oh, and we have some Serie A action this evening as AC Milan visit Genoa.