Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp pledged Lucas Leiva would remain at the club after the Brazilian’s goal secured a 1-0 FA Cup third-round replay victory at fourth-tier Plymouth Argyle.
Lucas, Liverpool’s stand-in captain, scored his first goal in seven years to see off League Two minnows Plymouth at Home Park on Wednesday.
Afterwards, Klopp attempted to quash speculation linking Lucas with a January transfer to Italian giants Inter Milan.
When asked if Lucas would definitely be staying at Anfield this season, Klopp said: “From my point of view, I think yes he is staying.
“But what is definitely in this business? We have kind of an agreement so I actually would say yes.
“Lucas is a very valuable squad player. He’s a great personality and a good player. He’s a really wonderful guy. He is really important for us.”
Lucas converted Philippe Coutinho’s 18th-minute corner with a near-post header to give Liverpool victory over Plymouth, who had come away from Anfield with a 0-0 draw in the teams’ first meeting.
It was the 30-year-old’s first goal since a Europa League tie with Steaua Bucharest in September 2010 and Klopp expressed surprise at his lack of goals.
“We have been playing old against young each time after training and Luca is the top scorer of the old team,” Klopp said.
“So I am really surprised that he has not scored in so long, but now he’s back on track.”
– ‘Back on the map’ –
Klopp also expressed satisfaction that Coutinho is easing his way towards full fitness after an ankle ligament injury.
The former Inter Milan playmaker started a game for the first time since Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Sunderland in late November.
“It was good and I am really happy,” said Klopp, whose side will host second-tier Wolverhampton Wanderers in round four.
“It was really important for us. He played 60 minutes and it was the perfect intensity, so it’s good for him and good for us.”
Klopp defended his decision to make wholesale changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Manchester United at the weekend, saying it would be “idiotic” to retain the same side due to fixture congestion.
“We had a lot of young players and one of the challenges was that they were playing live on television against a fourth division side,” Klopp said.
“Everyone thinks you’re three or four classes better and you’re feeling embarrassment when you lose a challenge. We fixed that at half-time, but it was a tough game.”
It could have been uncomfortable for Klopp had Jake Jervis’s acrobatic volley gone in rather than hit a Liverpool post in the 75th minute.
The tension rose further when Divock Origi saw a penalty saved in the closing stages by Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick after Yann Songo’o fouled Alberto Moreno, but Lucas’s goal proved enough.
Argyle manager Derek Adams said: “We gave them a good run for their money and most of all I feel as though we’ve put our club back on the map over the two ties in front of a worldwide audience.”