Rodgers: Lucas return can transform season
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 master plan.
A thigh injury has sidelined the Brazil international since August, restricting him to just four matches in 2012 – 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' 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," Rodgers said.
"He is at the best point he could be in training and it is now about the games for him. It is just about getting the balance.
"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 after his arrival from Gremio for £5m in 2007, has proved his importance to the side over the last couple of seasons.
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 Premier League action before being sidelined again.
But he is relishing a return against Southampton today at Anfield.
"I have been out for a long time so I think that my performance will get better as I get more games,," he said.
"Ever since my first injury the fans have been very important to me and the players, on a daily basis, have really supported me. Now it's the time for me to repay that and help them.
"When Brendan Rodgers arrived I was just recovering from the knee injury, so he gave me a lot of confidence and was always very clear about his plans for me.
"I have been watching games from the stands and now I want to help the team to get the points that we really need at the moment."
Wednesday's defeat at Tottenham, despite one of Liverpool's best displays under Rodgers, ended an eight-match unbeaten run and left them 10 points adrift of fourth place.
Rodgers accepts that results have to start matching performances to achieve their targets, and scoring more goals is central to that.
Today's visit of the struggling Saints, who have the top flight's worst defensive record and have won only three of their last 36 league visits to Anfield, provides the ideal opportunity.
"We are not in a position we deserve to be in, but ultimately we have to turn the performances into results," Rodgers added.
"The level of our game is a good one but we have to align that with results."