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.
"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."
He went on: "We need three different types; one who is maybe more defensive, another who can link the game and still get forward and another 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 to make sure we are as fit and fresh as can be."
The man himself is relishing a return against Southampton tomorrow 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.
"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. We are getting to the middle of the season now and it is vital that we start to get more points. December and January are key months for teams in the league, so it's important for us to get as many points as we can."
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