It has been another season of upheaval, impressive steps forward, surprising steps back and turbulence at Liverpool. "Difficult," is how Lucas Leiva describes his sixth campaign in English football. Yet it is one he feels is ending too soon.
The complexion of Brendan Rodgers' debut season as manager can alter with victory in the Merseyside derby at Anfield that would maintain Liverpool's hopes of overtaking Everton in the run-in. Defeat would ensure a second successive season behind their local rivals for the first time since Liverpool returned to the top flight in 1962.
The contest counts within the city, for pride, but fleeting success and parochial disputes are not what the Brazilian midfielder signed up for when he committed to a long-term contract with Liverpool recently. "We know how important it is in the city and to the fans to see Liverpool finishing above Everton," Lucas says. "That's the way it is, and we hope to achieve that. It would mean we are one position higher in the table but really we want more than that.
"The new contract will cover the best years of my career and I am glad they will be at Liverpool because I have worked hard to establish myself here. I really believe the club will be back to where it belongs soon, fighting for titles and Champions League qualification, and we can do it no matter how difficult it has been this season. If I didn't have that belief I may not have signed. This club has given me everything as a player and a person. I want to repay that and help take the club back."
Such optimism appears out of place with Liverpool seventh in the Premier League and still reeling from Luis Suárez's 10-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic. Then again, as their response to that traumatic week showed, with an outstanding team display to dismantle Newcastle United 6-0 without their leading goalscorer, Liverpool have been impossible to categorise under Rodgers. For better and for worse.
Lucas offers valuable perspective at Liverpool. He is spending a spare afternoon at the Bill Shankly Suite in his capacity as a trustee of Liverpool FC Foundation, the club's official charity that runs a men's health course in a city where the average male mortality age is 67. The national average is 81. Also present is Steve Blackall, one beneficiary of the course who was unable to leave home for six months due to post-traumatic stress disorder. Lucas looks on in admiration as Blackall faces a group of roughly 20 men and performs a stand-up comedy routine.
Unofficially, the Brazil international is also head of Liverpool's South American social contingent. He was instrumental in the January transfer of Philippe Coutinho from Internazionale and his compatriot's swift adaptation to the Premier League. "I thought it was my responsibility to help Luis, Sebastián [Coates] and Philippe feel comfortable when they arrived," he says. "That makes it easier for them to perform on the pitch, so everybody benefits."
That outlook was illustrated brilliantly at Newcastle, where Coutinho flourished at the head of a well-balanced midfield, but has assumed greater significance since Suárez's ban.
"I have been with Luis almost every day since what happened," said Lucas earlier this week. "He's OK now. He will try to come back as a better footballer if possible and a better person, too. I haven't discussed his future with him. We don't talk about it as that's his private business. I can't tell what he has in mind but he has a contract and I think every player here is looking forward to next season."
As for this campaign, the 26-year-old concedes another managerial change last summer brought inevitable consequences. "It has been a difficult season, if I'm being honest," Lucas says. "It wasn't just the manager who changed. There were a lot of changes to the playing staff as well, in and out, and that doesn't help the team. You need to know each other well and if you look at the teams that fight for the title and the top positions they have a really strong spine that has been together for a long time.
"That is what Brendan is trying to build here, a team that is going to be really good in the future. He's a manager who all the players look at and think is the right man for the job, not only now but for the future. The second half of the season has been a lot more positive because we know how Brendan wants us to play. We want to finish strongly and take that into next season."
The campaign is drawing to a close at the wrong time on a personal level too, with Lucas still working his way back from the cruciate ligament injury that cost him seven months of his career and the three-month absence with a torn thigh muscle that quickly followed.
"Personally I'm only halfway through a season given how much time I missed with injury," he says. "Having two injuries so close to each other stopped me improving at a time when I was feeling really good and playing well. My target for this season was just to get playing again regularly. The performances will improve as my fitness improves and my confidence improves. Two big injuries in a short space of time does affect your confidence. Next season I think is going to be perfect for me because I will be 100%."