After a very disappointing debut season on Merseyside, many Liverpool fans had written off the former Southampton captain in 2015-2016. More known as Brendan Rodgers’ poster boy attacking midfielder than the influential, creative attacker he was on the South Coast, Adam Lallana proved that many fans were too harsh to judge him in such a negative light. Emerging as a key cog in Jürgen Klopp’s gegenpressing machine, Lallana implanted himself squarely in the starting eleven as a vitally important player. Thanks to his stellar pressing and equally impressive creativity on the ball, Lallana showed why the Reds were willing to pay £25m for him just one season prior. Despite his very strong season, however, the continued emergence of Liverpool’s youngsters on the wing combined with Klopp’s desire to increase the competition for places in the attacking midfield leaves Lallana in a peculiar situation of having to once again fight for his place in the starting eleven.
Lallana’s statistics of seven goals and eight assists in 2015-2016 are a solid return for a player who only contributed six goals and four assists in 41 matches a season ago. For a player in Lallana’s mold whose main contribution is his ability to defend from the front, these returns were very solid. Lallana exhibited his typical deft touch in tight situations, creating chances for his teammates while weaving through multiple defenders. The Englishman created 71 chances between the English Premier League and the Europa League, two more than teammate Roberto Firmino. Lallana’s role is not as a main creative outlet in the Liverpool side—that spot belongs to Philippe Coutinho. Rather, Lallana’s job is to press defenders and regain possession while helping to facilitate the creativity of Coutinho and Firmino. Lallana did a fantastic job of executing his responsibilities with a passing accuracy of 82.4% in the premier league to go along with 1.7 key passes per match. The Englishman also made 1.4 dribbles per match in the league this season—an impressive feat for a player who is usually operating in very tight spaces. Although Lallana is not the creative outlet his two Brazilian teammates may be, he is still a very important part of Liverpool’s attack through his ability to set his teammates up in positions where they can create chances for themselves and for others.
Lallana’s real work is done without the ball. In contrast to his typical 60-minute showings due to a perceived lack of fitness under Rodgers, Lallana showed why these concerns were woefully untrue. Once Klopp took over, Lallana immediately became a player who could run all day and continue pestering defenders up until the latter stages minutes of a match. What differentiates Lallana from other extremely fit players such as James Milner, however, is that he does an excellent job cutting off passing lanes and closing down defenders intelligently rather than blatantly running at them over and over again. Lallana racked up a stellar 2 tackles, 0.6 interceptions, and one clearance per match. Furthermore, the former Southampton man made an astonishing five recoveries of possession per match—besting tackling machine Firmino by 0.55. Lallana also won 46.2% of his 153 duels won, again superior to Firmino’s returns in those two areas. Clearly, Lallana excelled in this new role under Klopp. Using his tremendous tactical awareness combined with his tenacity and competitiveness, his defensive work helped make up for some of his creative deficiencies. Under Rodgers, he was envisioned as Liverpool’s leading attacking midfielder where a lot of play would flow through him and Coutinho. However, he played more of a facilitator and a defender once Klopp took over, a role that suited his strengths far better than what was asked of him under his former manager.
While Lallana excelled this season once Klopp was appointed, his lack of attacking output and inconsistency in front of goal may lead to him being replaced. Rumors have already been swirling that the Reds have been in pursuit of an attacking midfielder in the likes of Mario Gotze and Joao Mario of Sporting in Portugal. If either of these two players were to arrive at Anfield, both would likely displace the Englishman in the Liverpool side, creating a triple threat with Firmino and Coutinho. Although it would be unfortunate to see such a hard worker in Lallana be demoted even after a strong season, Lallana’s deficiencies in attack limit the potential of the Liverpool side. Lallana would be excellent as the Reds’ first midfielder off the bench who can impact games as a late substitute, or as a more than capable fill-in in the event of an injury. On a top side in the Champions League, Lallana is certainly not someone who would be a regular starter, but he can still be a vital member of the squad. He is well endeared to his manager for his willingness to virtually run through a wall in his pursuit of victory, all but ensuring that he will remain an important player even if that may not constitute a starting role.