WHILE idling away another evening of international football boredom this week, I noticed The Anfield Wrap Twitter account asking fans which players had improved their reputations most under Jürgen Klopp.
Some noted the stark improvement of the hitherto error prone Dejan Lovren, others opted for the bedding in of the raw talent that is Divock Origi, while Roberto Firmino, who looked a bit of a transfer committee flop initially but is now all goals and assists, rightly got his share of votes.
Somewhat sarcastically, I tweeted for Danny Ings, whose standing seems to have soared without kicking a ball under the new manager. I presume that’s because Ings is a hard-working, busy striker who will never give defenders a moment’s peace, which on the face of it fits with Klopp’s trademark, but hardly unique, high-intensity pressing from the front.
@TheAnfieldWrap Ings. Never known anyone's rep improve so much without kicking a ball. Bizarre.
— Mike Nevin (@michaeltnevin) March 29, 2016
To be honest, it does my head in a bit that a player who runs dead long and dead hard suddenly becomes a typical Klopp player overnight; or in actual fact over six months spent in rehab and the gym.
That is not to say Ings won’t eventually thrive but there’s more to Klopp’s philosophy, tactics and requirements than hard work. To assume the industrious Ings is perfect for the German’s required style is to damn the manager and the player with faint praise — and paradoxically to assume Ings has the requisite quality. We’ll see.
Anyway, I digress. For me, the most improved player under big Jurgen is nice Adam Lallana; the Nivea lad with potential magic in his boots and newly crowned as the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month for March.
The boss won’t have seen much of him under Brendan Rodgers last season when he flattered to deceive. This season though from the moment, when exhausted after a mighty shift at Spurs, he buried his head in the managerial debutant’s shoulders, Lallana has clearly been a Klopp favourite.
You can tell, because he picks him regularly — in the key games — and has said more than once how good he is.
Without succumbing to one of the many hamstring mishaps a stricter training regime brought (or was it just a surfeit of games?), Lallana has improved his fitness massively.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) March 11, 2016
At Southampton he had a reputation — backed up by stats — for not finishing games and in his debut campaign at Anfield, after missing pre-season, he regularly looked shattered; even in the first half. The patrons of the Main tucked a collective Werthers Original inside one cheek and whispered familiar misgivings of southern softies.
Once an hour had gone, Lallana, waiting for the inevitable “hook”, spent more time with his hands on his hips than Taylor Swift. Suffice to say, with that chin and that beard, Adam, Swifty wins on that look.
If Lallana was evidently prepared to put harder yards into his Liverpool performances under Klopp from the off, his contribution at Manchester City in a front three with Phil Coutinho and Roberto Firmino began to remind of his quality and football brain; all the while still running his socks off.
Where he has impressed is with intelligence; being selective with his pressing and cutting off passing angles through clever positioning, something which is very much in the Klopp manual.
That Klopp persisted with the same front three and a false nine while Daniel Sturridge worked his way back to fitness — probably for slightly too long — was another hint of the German’s liking for smart footballers.
It’s not just about the pressing for Jürgen, or the harrying, or the closing down as some of us old stagers might call it. In fact it’s nothing new at all. Ian Rush, a fucking predator to give him due praise, was the master of nicking balls off defenders’ toes and being devastating with it.
Even in great Liverpool eras, Rush sometimes fed off scraps and was always Liverpool’s first line of defence — with the ultimate in responsibility for winning the ball high up the pitch.
Since the return of Sturridge and the emergence of Origi, we’ve seen Lallana return to a deeper position. With growing assurance and confidence, we’ve begun to appreciate his twinkle toes and ability to keep the ball. He displays composure and usually selects the right passing option. Witness his unhurried lay-off for Firmino for the second goal against Manchester United in the Europa tie.
And yet, despite lacking the pace that would set him apart, you sense that Adam Lallana still plays within himself; that there is still a lot more to come if Klopp can rise to this ultimate challenge and take the player to a new level. This we know, because we’ve seen flashes of Lallana’s genius already in a red shirt, ironically last season.
His scuffed winner at Norwich in January might have provided the comedy of seeing his endearingly puny, topless frame wheeling away to spark the celebration that broke Jürgen’s glasses, but there were — albeit fleeting — signs of Lallana at his most beguiling under Brendan Rodgers.
His first Liverpool goal against West Brom, featuring an upgrade on a Cruyff turn which took three defenders out the game and a one-two (with Jordan Henderson) is a thing of beauty. I’ve watched it four times already this afternoon and still can’t work out what he does with the ball. At my age, after 35 Anfield years, I’m into nutmegs and feints over a high press all day long.
And, against Swansea at Anfield over Christmas his beautiful dribble across the penalty area, all balance and body-swerves, before an unerring left-foot finish was another illustration of a footballer with all the technical gifts.
Things don’t always fall into place, and “might-have-beens” are part and parcel of football but I still can’t believe Thibaut Courtois saved Lallana’s swerving shot against Chelsea at the Kop end in last year’s League Cup semi-final. If anything, Lallana failed to reach those heights again and his season meandered into mediocrity.
With such quality at his disposal (remembering we paid £25m for the privilege) Lallana’s class needs to be seen more regularly. When searching for the YouTube clips, the go-to moments should be more plentiful.
Lallana needs to score more goals (three in the league so far isn’t good enough) and that still applies amid the greater application of his second season. He has improved massively but there’s still a way to go. He needs to take a leaf out of Terry McDermott’s book. I can see him chipping keepers for fun; even I can’t picture him wearing a bin-bag in training to sweat off the ale.
Where he failed under Rodgers was delivering those magic moments consistently; perhaps more content to turn up, decorate games here and there but with a hint of complacency; without a fear factor. Over his debut season he developed a reputation for being a bit of a fancy Dan, which belied his salty progression from League One, via two Southampton promotions, to the Premier League.
His first Liverpool term was in keeping with that of the team under a besieged Rodgers which showed little character at the business end and lost the faith and patience of the fans.
This is where Klopp has come in and improved him. There’s a Liverpool career on the line and Lallana knows it.
He’s made a fantastic job of creating a good impression and making the manager aware of his willingness to work and put his body on the line. With Coutinho and Firmino still knocking around and fat-face Mario Götze apparently on his way, Liverpool remain over-blessed with number 10s so there’s still something to prove for Adam Lallana.
Maybe in such exalted company, Adam understands that graft and hard work are essential if he is to become a fixture in Klopp’s long-term plans; to present an alternative to Coutinho’s imagination, Firmino’s goalscoring knack, or Götze’s international repute.
There is nothing wrong in that, as long as it is not at the expense of his natural talent. What might clinch Lallana’s Anfield future — and a place in our hearts — is a more frequent demonstration of the real artistry he can provide.
Ultimately, we will always reminisce over Ray Kennedy more than we will over Ronnie Whelan.
If Lallana is to explore the heights he is capable of, that will come down to the manager instilling him with a confidence to be bold and imaginative within a team pattern, and the player having the belief and determination to deliver it. He certainly has the ability.
Adam Lallana, at the age of 27, might care to ponder Liverpool greats are seldom remembered for their hard work.