Adam Lallana, as we all know, joined Liverpool in the summer of 2014 for £25million, in an attempt by Brendan Rodgers to reinvest the money received for Luis Suarez wisely. A high price-tag often piles pressure upon a player, and Lallana was no exception to the rule. Having been brilliant for Southampton the previous season, and with Liverpool fans desperate to see anything that would ease the pain of the departure of one of the best strikers in the world, the expectations were indeed high from the start.
And as it often happens in that kind of situation, the overwhelming feeling about Lallana throughout his first season on Merseyside was – disappointment. Everything seemed to be there, the skill, the intelligence, the perseverance – everything needed to make a top player, but something just couldn’t really click for him in those days. After the club decided to part ways with Rodgers and welcome Jurgen Klopp to the helm, things started to change. Slowly in the beginning, but steadily over time. It was clear from the off that Lallana truly is what’s known as a “Klopp player”, and the former Borussia Dortmund manager certainly knew how to guide him upwards, making the most of his playing characteristics in a variety of systems.
During the 2015/16, Adam was used mostly on the right side of attack, as a modern wide forward as opposed to a classic winger, and the impression was that the team needed more pace and direct play in that position. Therefore, with the purchase of Sadio Mane, the embodiment of pace and direct play, losing his place in the line-up seemed to many like a probable prospect for Lallana, for all the “Klopp player” qualities that he clearly boasts.
But Klopp had another plan. A much better one, as is his wont, than just planting him onto the hard surface of the bench. It now seems probable that the German had been contemplating a switch from his supposedly favoured formation 4-2-3-1 to a more fluid 4-3-3, with players interchanging positions on the pitch while keeping the intensity high. And that kind of system has “Adam Lallana” written all over it.
The German gave him a new, slightly deeper position, and seemingly a new role, and he looks a changed player indeed at first glance. But scratching the surface of the thing a bit deeper might reveal something else in the core. The brilliance of Jurgen Klopp.
Adam is definitely playing the football of his life at the moment. But the quality of the team around him is also an important factor contributing to his overall performance. For instance, let’s take a look at that assist for Origi against Middlesbrough. A fantastic team move from first to last, and yes, it wouldn’t have been as effective if there hadn’t been for Lallana to pick up the pass from Wijnaldum after Mane went down and hand it to Origi on a platter. On the other hand, it wouldn’t even begin to happen if Mane and Wijnaldum hadn’t started it all with some incredible two-man play, or if Origi hadn’t made his timing perfect. Similar things can be said of the two goals he scored as well. For the first one, it was Mane who spotted Clyne open on the right flank, and a terrific curling cross to the far post by the England full-back. The number of Liverpool players present in that box (Origi, Firmino, Wijnaldum, Mane) created tension among the Middlesbrough defenders, and Lallana made the most of it all with a strong run and a brilliant thumping header.
On the other hand, the real place of Klopp in this story becomes clearer when the tactical side of things is put under the microscope.
Lallana is by default a No.10. An attacking midfielder, playing centrally right behind the striker. Except, in a 4-3-3 formation, you don’t have that position, do you? You have space between the wide forwards (looking horizontally) and space between the striker and the central midfielder (looking vertically).
When you don’t have a player starting from there, the opposing defensive/central midfielders tend to drift out of it too in order to get more involved – making it even emptier. The striker will in those cases make diagonal runs to the sides, pulling opposing centre-backs with him and broadening the space even further.
And then Lallana steps in. Seemingly a box-to-box midfielder, basically a skilled and creative but hard-working attacking player, he makes his runs into that space. Thus you suddenly have a very dangerous No.10 with loads of room to manoeuvre in. A fantastic diversion tactics. What is actually achieved here is that opposing players are disabled in their attempts to restrict his influence on the further play development. Result: Liverpool score goals, win games, Lallana thrives, earning a lot of hugs from the boss in the process.
It all sounds very simple when you put it like that, but it actually demands incredible amounts of hard work both in training and during games, smart decisions, discipline and tactical awareness of players, and their natural quality as well.
Over a year has passed since Klopp came in and started his team-tuning work, and the change in the results of the team when compared to previous seasons is telling a story about it. But as he himself has said many times, the work doesn’t end here. There’s still a lot to do, many things to improve. There will be games lost, players injured, fans frustrated. Those kinds of set-backs have happened before, and this season is no exception. Neither will the next one be.
But Liverpool have started going in the right direction, and not even Gary Neville can dispute that. As for Adam Lallana, he certainly has his part to play at this stage of the progress.