Lucas: I've proved my worth
Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva believes this season has proved he has the quality to be a long-term success at Anfield despite the threat of added competition arriving in the summer.
The Brazil international was a much-derided figure among fans during his first three years after signing from Gremio in July 2007.
However, following the departure in successive summers of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano the 24-year-old has grasped the challenge of added responsibility and is enjoying the best form of his Reds career.
In January Liverpool tried and failed to sign Blackpool's central midfielder Charlie Adam and it seems likely they will renew their efforts in the summer. Other signings, in addition to the return of injured captain Steven Gerrard, are expected but a confident Lucas welcomes the competition it will bring.
"I think every single season is a different season,'' said the Brazilian, who signed a long-term deal last month. "I don't think I would sign a new contract if the club did not have a plan for me in the future. I am happy with the way I am playing. A lot of players have come already and I am still here and playing so that means they believe in my football and my qualities.
"Next season we will see what happens. They will sign players, of course, but I think I have shown I am capable of being in the team all the time. I have to finish well and keep that up next season, improve and fight for my place.''
Only centre-back Martin Skrtel (with 45) has made more outfield appearances than Lucas (43) this season. In previous campaigns he was criticised by supporters for being a favourite of former manager Rafael Benitez but this term has fully justified the belief the Spaniard had in him when others had their doubts. Being seen as a key player has also helped build the player's self-belief.
"This season I am trying to take the responsibility more than the previous season because a couple of players have left and I want to step up and show my real qualities,'' he added.
"We have to make sure the youngsters are comfortable and they try everything they can. They will make mistakes, as everyone does, but they are doing really well and we are delighted with the way they have come in and played. There are some important players injured but we are on a good run and they deserve to be playing at the moment.''