Kuyt: Lucas is coming good
Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt has hailed the strength of character of midfielder Lucas Leiva after the Brazilian's emergence from a difficult spell at Anfield. The 23-year-old was given a hard time by fans in his first three seasons after arriving from Gremio in a £6m transfer.
However, towards the end of last campaign and the start of this Lucas has been one of the club's best players, and Kuyt believes he is now becoming a great asset.
"Lucas has done really well recently and is developing into a great player," Kuyt said. "He waited for his chances to come along and stayed focused on what he had to do. He has shown a lot of character to come through that and I'm sure all the experiences he's had so far have made him stronger, not only as a footballer but as a person as well.
"There isn't a player in the world who doesn't have good and bad times. You just have to make the best of it. When things aren't going the way you want you just have to keep working and Lucas has done that.
"In the last couple of weeks he has really clicked with Raul Meireles; with Lucas as the holding midfielder and Raul as the passing player it has worked really well. That's been a big plus for us. Lucas has also got himself into the Brazil team and deserves a lot of credit."
"Lucas is working hard on the tactical side of his game and working hard on the shape of the team," said Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson. "He is a very intelligent player and I think it is very much that he is happy in his role. He knows very much what we are looking for from him and feels confident he can deliver it.
"On top of that he has that bit of extra confidence which being selected for Brazil brings - confidence for footballers is a vital ingredient."
Yesterday, manager Roy Hodgson revealed the club were keen to extend the Brazil international's contract, which still has 18 months to run. However, he admits the form of Lucas and Meireles has given him a problem when captain Steven Gerrard returns from his hamstring injury, which is expected to be next weekend at Fulham.
"It will be a nice headache, won't it?" he admitted. "There are enough problems as a football manager without worrying too much about what's going to happen in the future. We'll let the future take care of itself. Steven is not fit for this weekend, so that makes the decision easy for me.
"Maybe against Fulham I'll have a very hard decision to make, but I'll welcome that because if we're going to become a good team we're going to need plenty of those hard decisions. It will prove we've got a lot of good quality players and we aren't totally dependant on the odd one or two, which is also important for the team to know that."
Rodriguez, unsung hero
Another figure in the Anfield set-up who has been attracting criticism is Maxi Rodriguez, who has found a home on the left of midfield, is enjoying his best spell since arriving from Atletico Madrid in January.
Hodgson has been mightily impressed by the contribution made by the diminutive Argentina international, who in his first five months often allowed the game to pass him by.
"People have not spoken much about Maxi but he has been a revelation," he said. "He is a bit of an unsung hero at the moment, he's not getting a lot of credit but he's doing a great job at the moment.
"He has taken on board the work we have tried to do and embraced the role I have given him and interpreted it so well both offensively and defensively. Suggestions that he goes missing in a game are very harsh and I can produce statistics to prove he doesn't go missing.
"His positional play is very good, his technical ability is very good and, at the moment, with three goals he is right up there."
Rodriguez scored just once between January and May but he now has three goals in his last seven matches. That is as many in the Premier League as Steven Gerrard but two of those were a penalty and a free-kick, while all Rodriguez's have come from open play.
"Dirk (with two goals) hasn't got more than one in free play, Raul Meireles and Milan Jovanovic have not scored so in terms of goals he's right up there with Steven Gerrard," added Hodgson.