Chelsea host Liverpool at Stamford Bridge tonight in the return leg of their Capital One Cup semi final with the scores level at 1-1. The game will be one and lost in many areas but maybe the most important battle of the game will be of the two defensive midfielders Nemanja Matic and Lucas Leiva.
Sometimes seen as the unsung heroes of their respective sides these two holding midfielders may hold the key to victory in tonight’s game. Both men will be tasked with the challenge of breaking up the oppositions attacks and in essence setting the pace of the game. With Chelsea expected to bring the game to Liverpool, Lucas will be the busier of the two as he tries to keep the likes of Hazard and Oscar at bay.
Lucas in particular has been a player who has received little praise in his time at Anfield but since his return to the side this campaign he has been nothing short of brilliant. We only have too look at Liverpool’s Premier League form with and without the Brazilian to see how important he has become to Rodgers’ side.
In eleven games without Lucas the Merseysiders have won just three, with Lucas however they have won seven of their eleven games losing just the one. He has also shored up the defence with the team conceding on average 1.55 goals per game without the defensive midfielder and conceding just 0.91 per game when the Brazilian starts.
Matic has a similar effect on Mourinho’s Chelsea side, he has missed just three games this season in all competitions but of those three games they have won just one giving them a win percentage of 33% without the Serbian. With Matic they have played thirty-one games and have a much higher win percentage of 74%. Similar to Lucas, when Matic doesn’t play they concede more with Chelsea conceding 2 goals a game without him and 0.8 when he starts.
Both men will have important yet differing roles tonight in a game where either could be the difference for their sides. Matic will be expected to control the game from deep, being patient and trying to pick out gaps in what you would expect to be a stern Liverpool defence. Matic will also have to be on high alert against potential Liverpool counter attacks especially with the pace they possess in Sterling and Markovic.
Lucas is likely to be a busy man tonight and will be key if Liverpool are to stop the league leaders from running riot at the Bridge. The Brazilian will be expected to limit the space for the Chelsea attackers and upon winning the ball back try and start quick counter attacks.
In what’s sure to be an intriguing game the battle between these two men in their respective halves of the pitch will be an interesting watch and is potentially where the game will be won and lost.