LIVERPOOL, September 16 – Ahead of Liverpool's opening Champions League group match against Hungarian side Debrecen on Wednesday evening, midfielder Lucas is resisting the current desire to compare himself to former player Xabi Alonso.Following Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid in the summer, it has become the fashion at Anfield to declare Lucas as his natural successor, an opinion fuelled by his increasingly impressive performances for Rafa Benitez’s side this season.
He was in particularly outstanding form during the 4-0 win against Burnley last Saturday and has finally won over a section of supporters who had questioned his place in the Liverpool squad.
However, the player himself is taking a more philosophical look at his position in the Liverpool team and is doing all he can to avoid any comparisons with Alonso, whose July move to La Liga was greeted with dismay by fans of the Merseyside club.
"I knew when Xabi left that people would compare us but anyone who knows football knows I am not the same player as Xabi," said Lucas.
"I try to play more forward and Xabi is a good passer, of course we miss him but now he is at Real Madrid and we hope he will do well there.
"We have to think about our squad now. We have Javier (Mascherano), Stevie (Gerrard), and hopefully (Alberto) Aquilani will be fit soon. I hopefully can keep the same level as Xabi to stay in the team.
"I am young and just trying to focus and I know that if I play well and the team play well then that will help a lot.
"The most important thing I can do is to try and stay in the team."
Apart from losing to Manchester United 6-0 on aggregate during the 2005 Champions League qualifying stages for the 2005 competition, Debrecen are a team that have done little to appear on the radar of those who follow English football.
However, Benitez insists his backroom staff have done as much work as possible to find out about the champions of Hungary, who won five of their six qualifying games, in a bid to avoid what would be a significant upset.
He also reiterated the widely hailed notion that as impressive and as important as the Champions League is, Liverpool’s fans would still prefer to win the Premier League instead.
It has been 20 years since the club last won England’s top-flight championship. Since then, Manchester United have usurped Liverpool’s domestic dominance and Benitez knows that that fact hurts the club’s followers more than any other.
He said: "We were working hard, sending scouts and watching some Debrecen games and we have a lot of information now and we will see what the real level is on the pitch.
"The group stages will be difficult and tough but we will see if we can get the points we need early.
"The Champions League is always a good competition and we will see if we can get to the final again.
"This is important to approach every game and every competition trying to win, but at a club like Liverpool, the priority for the fans is the Premier League, then Champions League, then FA Cup and the League Cup."
Liverpool will be buoyed by the expected return of midfielder Mascherano who missed the weekend’s fixture against Burnley with a pelvic injury. Benitez has an almost full squad to choose from with only Daniel Agger and Aquilani – who was Benitez’ big summer buy as a replacement for Alonso – ruled out with long-term complaints.