IN the wake of Liverpool’s draw with Southampton at the weekend predictable rumours began to emerge that Jürgen Klopp was interested in signing Virgil van Dijk at the earliest opportunity. Just as predictable were the moans that followed:
“Can’t we sign players from a club other than them?”
“If we buy one more we’ll get one free with our loyalty card.”
“Why don’t we sign the player Southampton are going to replace van Dijk with, cut out the middleman?”
I get it, I really do. It has become a bit of a cliché now. I especially agree with the idea that we should try to sign these players before Saints do or, at the very least, go ahead and sign the Southampton scouts. Of course that conveniently forgets the fact that Brendan Rodgers was offered Sadio Mané back in 2014, when he moved from Red Bull Salzburg to St. Mary’s. It’s also worth mentioning that Jürgen Klopp wasn’t the Liverpool manager when the Saints signed van Dijk.
None of that is to stick the boot in on our previous manager, of course. Other people do that on a regular enough basis even though he’s no longer even in England, let alone the Liverpool hot-seat. It’s easy to criticise managers for the players they don’t sign but you don’t know what information they’ve been given or how they want to shape the team going forward, so to use it as a stick to beat them with is unfair. I point those two things out merely to make the point that we might have signed them before Southampton if the circumstances had been different.
The main question I have is whether or not it’s time to accept that signing players from the South Coast side has actually worked out quite well for us so far. If it has, can we not also agree that the best thing for Liverpool Football Club is to sign the right players, not players from the right clubs?
Rickie Lambert is, arguably, the only wrong move we’ve made when it comes to players from Southampton. Even that made sense at the time, with the lifelong Liverpool fan having netted 117 times in 235 appearances for Saints and being happy to be a squad player. It didn’t work out but there was method in the madness, with Lambert having finished 2013/14 as the joint-third best assisting player behind Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez and level with David Silva and Wayne Rooney. Obviously one of the staff should have known his change of pace was from slow to stop, but you live and learn.
I think we can all agree that Nathaniel Clyne has been an instant success. When your main criticism of your right-back is that he should be more dangerous in the final-third then you’re really just nit-picking. He rarely gives worse than a 7/10 performance and his reliability when it comes to injuries makes him ultra dependable. Compare and contrast with Luke Shaw and his move to Manchester United, where he rarely makes the team but regularly wins all-you-can-eat competitions. Clyney will do me just fine, thanks.
How about the aforementioned Mané? His performances have barely let up since arriving on Merseyside, earning himself comparisons with John Barnes that have been fully merited. It gives some indication what an impact he’s made when you’re genuinely wondering how Liverpool are going to cope without him when he jets off to take part in the African Cup of Nations in January. Some people were honestly annoyed that we signed him instead of Mario Götze in the summer, mainly because he played for Southampton. The German has completed 90 minutes once in seven appearances for Borussia Dortmund since re-signing for them. Good luck with that.
What can we say about Dejan Lovren? When he first arrived at Anfield he looked like a terrible mistake of a signing. Making countless mistakes, looking short of confidence and getting exposed time and again — though you could argue Rodgers’ system offered the defence little protection — and many fans would have been happy if we’d sold him on for a fiver and a packet of Skips. His transformation under Klopp has been great to see, this weekend’s performance back at his old club was a sign of how far he’s come even in a relatively short amount of time.
The last time Lovren returned to St. Mary’s it looked as if he completely lost his head, having to be replaced by Martin Skrtel at half-time. The only good thing that came out of that game was that Skrtel’s number was finally up. This time around the central defender was battered with some utterly disgraceful personal abuse from the stands but put in a top-notch performance, never looking under threat and nullifying the little threat that Southampton posed with ease. He is now one of the first names on the teamsheet and even if you don’t like him you can’t argue with the fact that the manager does and he knows what he’s talking about.
Then there’s Adam Lallana. What a transformation he’s had during his time at Anfield, hey? When he first arrived he was seen as too lightweight, too easy to push off the ball. He appeared to be overwhelmed by the move to a club as big as Liverpool and even though he’d been Southampton’s captain it seemed that the famed ‘weight of the shirt’ was too much for him to bear. He scored five goals in 27 Premier League appearances in his first season.
Then Jürgen Klopp arrived and everything changed. Lallana was the poster boy for the new manager’s way of playing, with the image of him collapsing into the German’s arms when he was substituted at the end of his first game against Tottenham seen as a sure-fire sign of how the former Dortmund boss would get every last drop of energy out of our players moving forward.
Slowly but surely Lallana has won over The Kop. His last minute winner against Norwich and the subsequent removal of his shirt and crazed run around the pitch was arguably the moment that he proved himself and everyone got on board with what he was bringing to the table. Klopp’s decision to send him deeper this season has been met with almost universal approval and he’s looked an even better player because of the games he hasn’t appeared in.
I remember being on The Kop for the visit of United after the last international break and hearing Anfield sing his name, desperate for Klopp to send him on in the belief that it would change the game in our favour. That we actually did look significantly better when he came on to replace Daniel Sturridge on the hour mark was testament to the difference he makes to our attacking shape.
Would we have beaten Southampton at the weekend if Lallana hadn’t picked up an injury during a pointless international match? There’s no way to know for sure. However what is interesting is how much of a standard bearer for Klopp’s way of playing the England midfielder has become. According to those far more knowledgeable than myself about such things, Lallana ‘starts the press’. He’s already scored three goals in 11 appearances this season, just one shy of the four he scored in 30 in the last campaign.
Adam Lallana may not be the best midfielder Liverpool have ever had, but the difference he makes to this current side is noticeable and noteworthy. He’s gone from a meek and mild lad who looked out of place in the iconic surroundings of Anfield to a player hearing his name sung all around the stadium and being deserving of the applause.
Does it really matter that we signed him from Southampton? If it’s the right player then the club is irrelevant.