TWO games in, two draws, one goal, but signs of the team taking a nice shape and moving, generally, in a nice ‘Klopp-esque’ direction.
Most of all though, it is just nice to be bloody excited about Liverpool and the football again. It has been exciting to think about just what Jürgen Klopp makes of this squad, to know that it will finally be four at the back with Mamadou Sahko in the team, to see what Klopp does with Emre Can, where he might use James Milner and how he might mould the young lads like Jordon Ibe and Jordan Rossiter.
Having seen the first two games under the new manager however, the player I have possibly been most excited by is one I never could have guessed; Adam Lallana.
It is fair to say that Lallana’s time in red thus far had been, to be kind, frustrating. Upon signing, he injured his knee in training before ever kicking a ball for Liverpool and missed the first three games of the season. Injury would go on to cost him 14 more games throughout the season.
That stat surprised me when I read it. Because it feels like he played a lot last year (41 times in all). He always seemed to be there, getting the ball in good areas and…not doing very much with it. The injury at the start of last season meant he came into the side with a sense of needing to feel his way in, of not having found his feet.
His lack of familiarity with his feet will be well-known to those of us who saw him dally in possession as an attack slowly dried up around him or all too often watched him lift a cross high above the heads of those who had made runs into the box. It seemed to happen a lot last year that when there was a key pass to be made, Lallana was the one who ended up not making it.
At times the England man showed that lovely, easy close control he displayed at Southampton and you were just willing him to use it to squirm past three defenders on the edge of the box and curl one past the keeper and into the net. There’s a player in there (he had been nominated for Player of the Year the season before he joined Liverpool) and you were just begging him to let it out. But it just would not come.
Lallana was always considered a Brendan Rodgers favourite (41 games last season. 41!!) and when Brendan was replaced by Klopp, many felt that it was a very bad thing indeed for the midfielder. “He won’t fit in with the way Klopp wants to play,” came the wisdom from many. “He will be fearing for his future at the club.”
While the second part of that might well be true, and more on that in a moment, if we took time to think about Lallana and how he plays, it becomes more and more apparent that maybe he will turn out to be more of a favourite for Klopp than he was under the previous manager.
As I have said, Lallana came to Liverpool off the back of a season for Southampton that saw him nominated for PFA Player of the Year as well as making its Team of the Year.
He had been a very important part of Mauricio Pochettino’s impressive side who finished eighth in 2013-14. The clearest aspect of the approach of that Southampton side was its willingness to adopt a high press on its opponents. The high energy, high tempo game-plan was one not used often with this level of finesse and it worked extremely well. One of the major successes of this system was the team’s captain: Lallana.
Having already proved that he could work extremely effectively in a pressing system, Lallana further underlined his suitability to a high-tempo game-plan through his distance covered last season. He finished second, behind only James Milner, in average distance covered in 90 minutes in the Premier League last year.
So, let’s go through that again. Lallana had already been part of a successful pressing system and even in a season where his play on the ball did little to excite us, he ran more on average than anyone in the league bar his new vice-captain. You know what, he doesn’t sound like the type of player Klopp would fancy at all…
Much of the doubt over Lallana’s future under Klopp, while perhaps lazily put down to his apparent lack of work-rate, did appear to have legitimacy. It was not that he did not run enough or work hard enough last year. It was the actual football stuff. The bits where he has the ball at his feet and you look for him to jink past a man or slip a ball into the forward. He looked unsure last season, like he was trying to impress and not make a fool of himself all at once.
Under Rodgers, he was safe. Signed for around £25million last summer, he was not going to be moved on too quickly with the Northern Irishman at the helm. With the arrival of the new man, however, all bets were off. Slates were wiped clean, for better or for worse. Lallana could not sit back anymore, it was time to stand and deliver. The old manager might not have sold you off lad, but this Klopp just might if he does not like what he sees.
At 27, Lallana probably knows that this is his big shot. Barcelona or Bayern Munich won’t be coming calling for him. His next move, should there be one, is likely to be down the footballing food-chain. His play last season suggested that he had achieved his goal in making it to Liverpool. The way he has started under Klopp suggests he wants to stay.
On Sunday, Lallana faces his old club Southampton. He takes with him perhaps his best run of form since he came to Liverpool. He impressed in individual games last year but I do not know if I can recall him being excellent twice in a row. His performances against Spurs and Rubin Kazan were a partial fulfilment of his talents. There is more he can do.
Lallana is not some kid the transfer committee have signed in the hope potential turns into something tangible. This is an England international, a Player of the Year nominee. The fourth most expensive player Liverpool have ever signed in the history of the club (only Firmino, Christian Benteke and Andy Carroll were more expensive).
He has shown something of that in these last two games. As Klopp said post-Spurs: “I am not sure how many games you saw like this from Adam Lallana? What do you think? I know him from Southampton and he can do 20-30 per cent more.”
Lallana’s work-rate, already high, has been pushed up a notch. He is now also working smarter and working as part of a whole pressing unit. His touch is more confident, his one-touch passes coming off with more regularity. He is finding his way past defenders, nimbly twisting and turning with the ball attached to his foot.
His head is up far more often now when he is on the ball. It is only two games and there is plenty of time for Lallana to go back into the shell he has lived in for much of his Liverpool career. But the signs are good. And he likes a bit of needle, as he showed last night against Rubin Kazan. And who can’t get behind that?
When Lallana was called ashore by the manager after 80 minutes against Spurs, Klopp held his arms open to offer an embrace for the work his midfielder had gotten through. Lallana, so tired from his ceaseless running and ever increasing willingness to get on the ball, fell forward into the awkward embrace, needing his manager to hold him up.
If he does nothing else in his Liverpool career but run himself into the ground like that, he will be very much appreciated.
Klopp reckons that there is more to come. Now that is the Adam Lallana I want to see. If he can go about delivering that, to pinch a phrase the manager said at his first press conference, he will go a long way towards turning the doubters into believers.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo