- Premier League
Allen: Lucas is vital to Liverpool
Joe Allen believes Lucas Leiva's return from injury can help Liverpool to push into the top half of the Premier League table.
Lucas returned in a holding midfield role after three months out with a thigh injury as Liverpool beat Southampton 1-0 at Anfield on Saturday.
The Brazil international was influential in a dominant first-half performance by the home side, allowing fellow midfielder Allen to get further forward.
His return brought an end to a nightmare 12 months as he missed the second half of last season with cruciate knee ligament damage and then saw his comeback curtailed by a thigh injury suffered against Manchester City in August.
"You're always going to miss quality players like Lucas, and it's great to have him back in the side," Allen told the Liverpool Echo.
"When he pulled up injured in the Manchester City game, it was a bitter blow. He had worked so hard to get back from the knee injury.
"His return, with the steel and quality he brings, is only going to help the team going forward.
"It [holding midfielder] is a very important role. If you look at the top teams, they all utilise that position and have a quality player there. Lucas is vital to the way we play."
Liverpool's win lifted them to 11th, seven points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham, and Allen believes that gap can be closed and Champions League qualification obtained.
"For a club like Liverpool, that has to be our target," he said. "We've closed the gap a bit and we have got a run of games now where we want to pick up points and further reduce that deficit."
Former Swansea midfielder Allen relished the chance to get forward against Southampton, and knows he must help shoulder the attacking burden for Liverpool's match at West Ham on Sunday with top scorer Luis Suarez suspended.
"It would be a blow for any team in the world to lose a player like Luis for a game," he said. "It's a shame he will be missing, but it's up to everyone else to chip in with goals."