“ALL he does is Cruyff turns, you know. Not enough end product. He floats around on the periphery of games without making a decisive impact. He’s not worth the money we paid for him.”
ADAM Lallana has not been short of criticism since his 2014 summer move to Liverpool from Southampton for £25million, writes JOEL RABINOWITZ.
The general consensus has been that although a decent player, he’s not quite at the level Liverpool need and that overall he has been an underwhelming signing.
All that, until Jürgen Klopp arrived. Since then it’s been a completely different story. If it were not for the emergence of Dejan Lovren — now vying for the spot as the club’s best defender — Lallana would be Liverpool’s most improved player this season without a doubt.
Lallana has become one of Klopp’s first names on the teamsheet — an absolutely integral player throughout the German’s first seven months in charge.
No individual has taken to implementing Klopp’s high-intensity style of football more than Lallana, a fact captured in the manager’s first game in charge when the England man collapsed into the arms of his manager when leaving the pitch at White Hart Lane.
He spearheads’ Liverpool’s aggressive pressing in the final third, forcing the opposition into making mistakes and surrendering possession. Lallana’s appreciation of space and intelligence to close down the passing lanes is superior to any other player in this Liverpool squad, with the possible exception of Roberto Firmino. It’s an under appreciated skill, but one which has been crucial to Liverpool’s progression over the course of the season.
Questions are still asked over Lallana’s end product. For all his panache and elegant skill, there is a sense Lallana lacks that ruthlessness in front of goal to add the end product a player of his ability ought to be producing. His tally stands at seven goals and eight assists in all competitions so far this season. Not outstanding by any means, but not poor either. There is undoubtedly still room for improvement in that department.
When you look at some of Lallana’s key contributions, however, he has played a significant role in some important moments this season. Take his 95th-minute winner at Carrow Road, for example. He provided the assist for Firmino’s decisive goal in the Europa League victory against Manchester United at Anfield. He also scored and assisted in the 3-0 rout of Manchester City at Anfield, before scoring the third goal against Villarreal to secure Liverpool’s ticket to the Europa League final — a finish which, on second viewing, is actually very well taken.
Yet there is a tendency in the modern game to over-analyse a player’s impact purely by looking at statistics — mainly goals and assists. If you take this stance alone, Lallana has had an unremarkable season. The problem is, numbers do not tell the full story of Lallana’s importance to Liverpool’s success in recent months.
Lallana has been present in all of Liverpool’s most impressive victories this season. While the likes of Firmino, Coutinho and Sturridge have added a flurry of goals to lift Liverpool to the top of the 2016 Premier League scoring charts, Lallana’s role in these performances is no less important.
Klopp recently referred to Lallana as the team’s ‘hunter’. He is the first line of the press. He should not be an unsung hero, rather he should be recognised for his invaluable contribution to implementing the type of football Klopp demands — and that has taken Liverpool to a European final for the first time since 2007.
Stats are not widely available to measure individual pressing actions. The concept of closing down space efficiently and intelligently remains difficult to quantify, which is why Lallana’s impact is not best reflected by looking at goals and assists stats alone.
Scoring goals is only one part of winning games, and scoring goals is not as simple as just the assist and the finish. There is a process behind putting the ball into the back of the net. The intricate build-up play beforehand. The tackle or interception to win back possession high up the pitch.
Equally important is maintaining a lead once in front by maintaining control and keeping possession.
Lallana is regularly involved in all these important aspects of the game. He’ll play neat one-twos on the edge of the area. He’ll track back in the last minute to make an important sliding challenge. He’ll pull out wide, dragging a man with him to create space for a team-mate to run in behind. These actions don’t go down in the stats records but are all part of Lallana’s game.
What Lallana offers is hard graft combined with supreme technical ability. Often, in English football especially, attributes such as speed, strength and finishing are seen as paramount, while the more subtle skills that Lallana offers in abundance are given less recognition.
As a perfectly two-footed player, blessed with an excellent touch and with the ability to manipulate the ball so smoothly in tight spaces (see his sublime piece of skill versus Manchester United), Lallana is something of a rarity in the English game.
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) March 11, 2016
If Liverpool are to challenge for the top four and win trophies next season, Lallana’s starting place in the side should not be guaranteed. With Mario Gotze believed to be a top priority for Klopp, among other potential incomings, it is likely that Lallana’s number of starts will be reduced in comparison to this season. That’s absolutely fine.
What Lallana has shown this season is that he will undoubtedly be an important part of Klopp’s plans as a hugely valuable squad player. It feels as though he has finally arrived as a Liverpool player. He’s not one we want to lose. Although we should still expect more from him in terms of end product, Lallana deserves greater recognition for the impact he’s made throughout this season.