“HE’S fast establishing himself as the main man for England. He’s always on the move, he’s always available and he’s tricky on the ball. It’s hard to get the ball off him.”
It’s pretty nice to hear those words about one of your players, isn’t it? It’s even nicer when the man who comes out with it has played more than 200 games more for Manchester United than any other player in their history. It almost feels like if someone who is potentially that entrenched in any United v Liverpool debate comes out with that it makes the point more valid than if pretty much anyone else was to make it.
I find Adam Lallana to be one of the most fascinating footballers in the game but one thing really, really confuses me. How on earth did nobody manage to snap him up when he was playing for Southampton in League One? He started 74 games in League One when he was in his early 20s, he is clearly incredibly talented, yet he was able to progress with Southampton from League One, up through the Championship, and even manage to have himself a season at St Mary’s in the Premier League before someone at Liverpool saw what is becoming more and more obvious by the day. He is brilliant.
The only transfer rumour with any real substance involves signing for Wolves for £2 million in 2010. The trajectory of Lallana’s career is incredible. Four years ago, at the age of 24 he hadn’t played a single minute of Premier League football and now he is one of the first names on the team sheet for Liverpool and England. His Premier League debut came at the age of 25. To put this into perspective, Emre Can will be 25 in January 2019 and Philippe Coutinho will be 25 in two and a half months’ time.
Think of his level. Then think of that fact. It’s baffling.
It isn’t just his general career trajectory that is impressive, so too is his Liverpool career trajectory. Lallana arrived in the summer of 2014 having been the only player outside of Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City to make the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award, but it’s fair to say his first season didn’t see him scale great heights. He got injured in pre-season, started 24 Premier League games and failed to complete 13 of them which lead to people questioning his fitness levels. A return of six goals in all competitions wasn’t quite what people wanted from a £25m footballer either.
Liverpool flattered to deceive during the 2014-15 season and it’s something that you could probably level at him as well. You could see the talent, but he seemingly couldn’t play 90 minutes, while he was an attacking midfielder who didn’t really do huge numbers and he isn’t the quickest.
Then something happened. Brendan Rodgers was sacked and Jürgen Klopp took over. Lallana really has been a poster boy for what Klopp has done to this Liverpool side. During Klopp’s first game away at Spurs, Lallana played 80 minutes, ran himself into the ground and then famously collapsed in Klopp’s arms when he was replaced by Joe Allen.
As a team Liverpool ran 4.1km more than they had at any stage that season and you could tell. If you found out that Lallana was responsible for 1km of that you wouldn’t have been surprised. The players lifted their effort levels that day and it carried on to what we see today.
After this point of his Liverpool career no one would be ridiculous enough as to question Lallana’s fitness levels. I would say he’s probably Liverpool’s fittest player. If you want evidence of that watch Gini Wijnaldum’s clincher against Arsenal earlier this month. Lallana was still going in the 90th minute while still possessing the game intelligence to be aware that Divock Origi wasn’t onside, turning a midfielder, and playing the right ball. If a tired body leads to a tired mind, his ability to think like that would suggest his body wasn’t tired at all. Which given he ran the best part of 13km is pretty impressive.
His improvement from summer 2015 to 2016 and clear connection with Klopp’s ideology arguably saved his Liverpool career. It is unlikely that another season like 2014-15 would have seen him stay at Liverpool. While it’s clear to see that Lallana is a Klopp player, the other way of viewing it is that Klopp is a Lallana manager. High energy, attacking football, and plenty of movement are what the German demands, and it has brought the best out of him.
This season he has stepped his level up again. I wrote a piece earlier this season querying whether he’d be the odd man out. As it happened, the odd man out was the main striker and the formation was a little bit different to what I expected to see in August.
But still, it tells you quite a lot about how he has progressed. In the space of just over six months I have gone from thinking that Lallana would struggle to get regular football to believing that he’s one of the first names on our team sheet, one of the first players on the England team sheet, and one of the most important players for both sides.
It may be 15 months away but you’d expect England to turn up in Russia, and turn up with a front four that sees Lallana join Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Harry Kane get knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals. Lallana will be the senior man in that setup and one of England’s leaders.
The longer we go on, the easier it is to see why nobody really spotted Lallana in League One – he keeps lifting his level when he finds a new challenge. Every time someone tells him, whether literally or by circumstance, that he needs to lift it, every time a barrier is thrown in his way, he manages to lift himself a level. It’s like watching a really game racehorse respond when a jockey asks for more. He just keeps on finding something within himself.
There’s something of the Jamie Carragher in him, not in terms of ability or style but in the same way that every time Carragher was challenged, he rose to it and lifted himself to the point that any competition was mastered.
It makes you wonder exactly what his limit is. He’s 29 this summer and has just signed a four-year contract so it’s likely that the next couple of years are when we’ll find out, but from all of the signs available to us it’s quite likely that if Liverpool get better then he’ll make the step up as well.
His importance will be shown over the next month. A cruel injury blow means he’ll miss out on a crucial month of our season. I’m looking at our squad and trying to figure out how we replace his energy and his touch and I can’t see a particularly great alternative. It could well be time to tweak the formation a little and try something different but Klopp has shown no signs of that.
I hope we win 27-0 on Saturday but you can’t argue that Lallana won’t be missed. He’s the leader of our intensity, let’s hope someone steps up.