TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 21: Lucas Leiva #21 of Liverpool advances the ball against Toronto FC during the World Football Challenge friendly match on July 21, 2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
It was only one half of one pre-season friendly for Liverpool's Lucas Leiva, and so disclaimers about not wanting to get too carried away or to raise expectations to unattainable levels seem necessary. Still, on Sunday against Bayer Leverkusen, Lucas was in top form the entire time he was on the pitch—and that's even without taking into account a rare goal for the holding midfielder that was down to luck as much as anything.
From the opening whistle it was clear Lucas was on his game, with a string of early tackles confirming he hasn't lost his ability to read the game faster than the vast majority of players. After an eight-month layoff, a little rust would be understandable, but he was sharp as he repeatedly nipped in, catching Leverkusen players before they realised he was there, never leaving his feet and using his body to shield the ball he'd just won.
If his defensive efforts served as a reminder of just how much Liverpool missed his ability to read the game during his injury, it was almost as encouraging to see his sharp play carried over to when he had the ball. With it, he rarely took more than two touches to receive, control, and then send it on to its target—and then, without fail, he would look to make himself available as an outlet to receive the ball again. He may not be the player you want making late runs into the box down a goal in the 90th minute, but when it comes to setting the tempo and controlling midfield there are few better.
Though even if he isn't the player you want making late runs into the box to decide the game in the 90th minute, that didn't stop him from getting on the score sheet on Sunday—though his slightly embarrassed grin as he wheeled away, arms raised, spoke to his good fortune on the play. The reaction of his teammates, however—and in particular of Gerrard and Suarez—spoke to the increasingly important and beloved figure he has become amongst both fans and his teammates.
So in the end it may be true that it was only one half. And it may be true that at times the pace of Liverpool's final pre-season friendly lagged compared to what will be seen most weeks in the Premier League. Still, after most have spent the past eight months worrying about how or when or even if he'd recover from a torn ACL, it was great to see Lucas at the least not too far off the form he was on back when he seemed likely to end up Liverpool's player of the season for the second year in a row.