Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva is ready to end a year-long injury nightmare against Southampton at Anfield on Saturday and is back in the squad.
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Lucas missed the second half of last season after suffering cruciate knee ligament damage during a League Cup victory at Chelsea on November 29 last year. He fought back to full fitness over the summer, but then sustained a thigh injury at the start of a Premier League game against Manchester City on August 26.
The Brazil international, 25, stepped up his comeback with a 61-minute run-out as an overage player for Liverpool's Under-21 squad as they beat Middlesbrough 1-0 last Friday, but is now ready to return.
"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 the official Liverpool website. "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."
Manager Brendan Rodgers is wary of pushing Lucas too far too soon, but has been impressed with the midfielder for the way he has dealt with his injury setbacks.
"He has worked tirelessly in his recovery," Rodgers said. "We're just trying to nudge him along and make sure it's the right time. Lucas had a few weeks of training before he played his reserve game. He looked very capable in that game and he's had another week of training and I don't think he can go any further with regards to training.
"His next step is games, so we hope that in the next couple of weeks he will get opportunities to play and improve his football fitness. Mentally he's a tough boy. His mental fitness is very strong and he's looking forward to helping the team.
"It's a big boost because he's well in tune with what we're trying to do here. He's been kicking his heels on the side wanting to help his mates and the group, so I'm delighted to have him back."
Rodgers added that he hopes Lucas's return will free summer signing Joe Allen 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 who have worked very hard with him," Rodgers added. "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.
"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 to make sure we are as fit and fresh as can be."