Liverpool V Southampton at Anfield : Match Preview
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Lucas relishing return to action
The buzz surrounding defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva's long-awaited return may appear odd for a Liverpool team struggling for goals, but manager Brendan Rodgers sees him as a vital cog in his masterplan.
A thigh injury has sidelined the Brazil international since late August, restricting him to just four matches in 2012 as the 25-year-old was out for eight months after a knee operation last December.
His absence was highlighted as one of the reasons for the Reds' dip in form under Kenny Dalglish after Christmas and Rodgers believes his team have suffered equally.
Summer signing Joe Allen has been tasked with defensive duties in the intervening period but Rodgers hopes Lucas's return will free the Wales international to have a greater effect further forward.
"Lucas has worked really hard on and off the field and it is great credit to the medical team who have worked very hard with him," Rodgers said.
"He is at the best point he could be in training and I am not sure how much further he can go with the training because it is now about the games for him.
"It is just about getting the balance. It is finding the solution to control the game.
"We need three different types; one (Lucas) who is maybe more defensive, another (Allen) who can link the game and still get forward and another (Steven Gerrard) who can push on into the box and get goals.
"That is the balance we have been looking for and that has been the job this season, trying to manage that through all the games."
Lucas, after a difficult start immediately after his arrival from Gremio for #5million in 2007, has proved his importance to the side over the last couple of years.
He was the club's young player of the year in 2009-10 and player of the year the following season to cement his place as an integral fixture in the side.
Having overcome a cruciate ligament injury, the first serious problem of his career, Lucas expected to return stronger only to manage just 74 minutes of Barclays Premier League action before being sidelined again.
But he is relishing a return against Southampton on Saturday at Anfield.
"I have been out for a long time so I think that my performance will get better as I get more games, but I am really looking forward to the weekend," he told liverpoolfc.com.
"It's another step forward. I think it will be like a fresh start for me."
Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin is looking forward to Saturday's "extra special" trip, when he plans to get one over on idol Steven Gerrard.
The Reds captain has come under scrutiny of late, having yet to reproduce his best form under Brendan Rodgers, but is still adored by the Liverpool faithful and also by one of those set to line up against him at Anfield.
Southampton midfielder Schneiderlin began to follow the Merseysiders in his native France and cannot wait to pit his wits against the England star.
"It is a bit extra special to play Liverpool," said Schneiderlin, whose side's manager Nigel Adkins and top scorer Rickie Lambert are both ardent Liverpool fans.
"In France when you watch TV, you had to choose between Liverpool and Manchester.
"A lot of people six or seven years ago chose Manchester United, I chose Liverpool because I used to, and I still, love Steven Gerrard as a player.
"It will be special and I can't wait to play against him, but unfortunately he is going to feel bad because we're going to bring back three points.
"I will treat him like another player on Saturday. I just want to confront him and see what I can do against him.
"Of course, he is one of the best players in the world and that's what I want to play against every game. The best."
Schneiderlin pinpoints Gerrard's finest hour seven years ago as the reason for his soft spot for Liverpool.
"I remember the day when Liverpool played AC Milan in the Champions League final," he said.
"I was in the academy at Strasbourg and we all watched the game in the same room and it was just an amazing atmosphere."
While Liverpool come into the game on the back of a defeat at Tottenham, Saints are in the midst of a four-match unbeaten run.
Recent performances have been a far cry from those at the start of the season and Schneiderlin believes there is a growing momentum at St Mary's.
"It is very good when you look at the start of the season," he said.
"It was very tough, very hard but we have grown in confidence. Now we have been unbeaten in four games, it is very good."
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