EVER since Adam Lallana signed for Liverpool I’ve considered him to be a decent player. I wasn’t blown away by him initially, believing that he was ‘feeling the weight of the shirt’ and considering him to be a little like another Joe Allen. He was good, obviously, but he seemed lightweight and I never quite took to the idea of him being some sort of attacking genius who could unpick the tightest of locks.
The problem with first impressions is that they’re very difficult to rid yourself of. When Jürgen Klopp arrived I, like most, could see the difference that the new manager’s style had on Lallana’s game. Who could forget the moment the former Southampton man practically dropped into the German’s arms when he was substituted during the match against Spurs on day one of Klopp’s reign?
I appreciated that Lallana had started to settle into the club and I was glad to see him produce some consistency in his game, but that initial idea of him being a bit lightweight was still at the back of my head every time I watched him. Time and time again he would chuck in a Cruyff turn when we were streaming up the pitch, causing us to lose momentum. That would frustrate me no end and it took me some time to realise that he was actually doing a brilliant job of keeping hold of the ball and ensuring we maintained possession.
Even so, with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané in the side it was easy to lose sight of just what Lallana brought to the team. Klopp’s decision to move him further back was inspired, with the England man’s runs from midfield constantly causing opposition teams problems. It allowed him to control the game and be a lot more involved in our attacks, which is weird when you consider he wasn’t as far forward. The issues came when the manager asked him to move up the field into the front three and we lost a lot of what he has to offer.
I knew that he was playing well this season and I could see how his performances were impressive, but I still didn’t think he was all that much of an important player for us. When he signed a new contract in February it caused me to shrug my shoulders. Three years for a soon-to-be 29-year-old seemed like a long time to me, to say nothing of the reported £110,000 per week he’d be getting in wages. I wasn’t annoyed or anything, I just wondered whether he was really worth it.
Then he came on against Watford on Monday night and I suddenly realised just how good he is. It was like a lightbulb moment for me, with his absence from the side meaning I’d forgotten what he offered and was somehow seeing him in a new light. I thought he was excellent, getting into the little pockets of space, giving his teammates options and generally causing the Hornets all sorts of problems. Emre Can quite rightly took the plaudits and should probably win the goal of the season competition, but Lallana impressed me far more than I was expecting.
The goal will be remembered for any number of reasons, be it the faces of the Watford fans behind the goal, the assist from Lucas Leiva that means he’s now notched up as many as hashtag Pogboom or the sublime skill of Can himself to get the ball into the back of the net. Yet it was the little drag back from Lallana to Divock Origi, just when it seemed as if the England man was about to run into a blind alley, that set the whole thing in motion.
I expected him to be somewhat off the pace, given his absence through injury and the fact that he entered the fray so early on in the match. Yet he was up to speed with the action pretty much immediately, demonstrating that a good footballing mind can ensure you know what’s going on even if you’re not on the pitch yourself. It’s little wonder that Klopp seems to think so much of him as a player. Neighbours, workmates, buddies. I’d like to say that I’m not jealous of Lallana, but he plays for Liverpool and seems to be Klopp’s new bestie so of course I am.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that his performance on Monday night puts him on the same level as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo; it probably wasn’t even his best performance of the season. Yet somehow it made me appreciate him in a whole new light and I’m delighted he’s back in the team exactly when we need him. Much like another former Southampton player, Dejan Lovren, he seems to struggle when he goes up against his former club. This weekend provides him with the perfect opportunity to put that particular demon to bed and to take yet another step towards becoming one of our most important players.
It was with my new-found appreciation for what Lallana offers that I began to re-think my position on his new contract. Perhaps by the time he gets to the end of it he may be a little too old to be earning £110,000 per week. Maybe we’ll look back on it when he’s 33 and wonder what the board was thinking with that particular decision. But right now it looks like an astute move and suggests that those in positions of power might just be getting their act together when it comes to sorting out the strength of the team.
Take the recent news of Lovren’s contract renewal. I’ll admit that I was one of those who felt as though it was a bit of a silly decision. Let’s be honest, we’re all in agreement that our defence desperately needs sorting, though according to some Simon Mignolet is good for another season as our number one, Joel Matip’s great, Nathaniel Clyne is solid and now Lovren’s here indefinitely. It can’t all be James Milner’s fault. How do we sort out a defence that is on course to concede 50 goals for the fourth season running if the personnel is going to remain pretty much the same?
The most obvious answer is that it isn’t.
As Liverpool fans we’ve grown accustomed to be sceptical about claims that FSG realise the mistakes they’ve been making in the transfer market and are going to do their best to sort it. What if it’s actually true? What if they’re now aware that, wherever we finish in the league, we’re going to have European football next season? The likelihood is that we’ll play at least 50 games, so we’ll need a squad that is able to cope with that workload. Perhaps Lovren isn’t getting a new contract to cement his place as one of our first-choice centre-backs but rather as one of a number?
Equally, what if Lallana’s new deal back in February wasn’t just because of what he’s done so far this season but because of how useful a squad player he could be for the next few seasons? There’s no question that he’s been impressive during this campaign and has earned his new deal on merit, yet it might also be the case that Klopp and his team are looking to keep this squad as strong as possible and they see Lallana as an important part of that.
The truth is, there’s no way to know the logic behind the deals without seeing how things pan out in the summer. If, for example, Virgil Van Dijk arrives does that automatically mean that Matip drops out of the side because Lovren’s got a new deal? Or does it mean that Ragnar Klavan comes our fourth-choice centre-back and Lucas won’t need to play there at all? You’d imagine it’s the latter scenario and that’s just fine by me. For too long we’ve bombed out half-decent players for other half-decent players, so it’s time to opt for incremental changes in playing staff instead of wholesale changes that don’t do much to improve us.
Lallana impressed me against Watford. Liverpool’s transfer dealings might just be starting to impress me too.