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Manchester United kick off their title defence against new boys Birmingham City– but the Reds haven’t won any of their last 2 opening games.

Brazilian midfielder Lucas believes he can fill the void left by the departure of Xabi Alonso.

With Alonso having left for Real Madrid and new signing Alberto Aquilani sidelined for two months, Lucas will be a key figure when the new season gets underway.

“I feel as though I’m at the same level of strength and fitness as everyone else in the squad,” he said. “Now I can start to mature in the Premier League.

“I’m looking to play more games now that Xabi has gone. The competition between the players in central midfield is really fierce and even Stevie [Gerrard] can drop back into that position.

“I know I’m going to have to play well and work hard, that’s the only way I will be in the team. “I’m pleased with my own form. Last season I played some games and this season I want to play more. I’m doing extra work on the weights and that’s helping me a lot. I’m just trying to be focused on the season.”

Lucas also distanced himself from quotes stating he would be interested in a return to Brazil with Corinthians.

“I have been hearing these stories about me, and I don’t know where they are coming from,” he said.

“Rafa has told me I am in his plans for the season. He has told me that I’ve been working hard in pre-season and that this is my opportunity. I’m just looking to stay at Liverpool, be focused on playing games and helping the team to win silverware.”

Manchester United kick off their title defence against new boys Birmingham City– but the Reds haven’t won any of their last 2 opening games.

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