Many Liverpool fans were unconvinced by Adam Lallana when he first joined the club from Southampton in the summer of 2014. The England international had been one of Saints’ most important players for several years prior to his big-money move to Anfield, thriving most notably under Mauricio Pochettino on the south coast, but supporters of the Reds were not completely sold on the midfielder-cum-forward early on.
Some of their criticism was certainly valid. While undeniably easy on the eye, there was a feeling that Lallana was not ruthless or productive enough in the final third. There were question marks over his fitness, too, with Lallana forced to field criticism that he flitted in and out of games far too often, decorating rather than dominating proceedings.
Ahead of the 2017/18 Premier League campaign, though, it is not an exaggeration to say that Lallana is among the most important members of Liverpool’s squad. There is so much focus on transfers in the modern game, but the first duty of any manager at any level is to improve the players already at his disposal; given the extent to which the 29-year-old has become more of an influential figure during his time in charge of the Reds, Jurgen Klopp therefore deserves great credit.
Lallana was probably Liverpool’s best performer in the German’s first ever match in charge, a 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in October 2015. He remained frustrating at times as the months went on, but one thing that was notable was his improved lung power and stamina – vital attributes when playing for Klopp, who preaches a high-tempo and heavy-pressing style.
It was last season when Lallana finally won over the remaining doubters. Having previously been deployed most frequently in the Merseysiders’ frontline, Lallana was dropped back into a three-man midfield, while retaining the license to break forward and link up with his attacking team-mates. The change in position worked wonders for the ex-Bournemouth loanee, who looked far more comfortable with a greater amount of space in front of him. His improvement was borne out in the statistics: a return of eight goals and six assists compared favourably to four goals and six assists in 2015/16, and five goals and three assists in 2014/15.
As Liverpool prepare to return to the Champions League, Lallana will once again be crucial this term. At their best, Klopp’s charges are capable of blowing teams away with their speed and energy; when such an approach does not work, however, they rely on more subtle means. Lallana is vital in that regard, with his invention on the ball and quick feet in tight areas often helping Liverpool to break down stubborn opponents.
“For me it was clear we had to try everything to keep a player like him. He is a very important player for us,” Klopp said of Lallana in February.
“I heard when I came in what a lot of people said about him before I came in but I actually only knew him from Southampton. Since I’ve been here he has been a really important player for all our development steps which we made – not only for him personally.
“I have a lot of time together with the players but I am not in the dressing room so you need to have players there too and he is one of them. He is really a good guy and a perfect age to deliver and get consistency in his performances.
“I know in the world of football people say when you are 28 [as he was at the time], ‘Why do you want to give a new contract?’ but you need this mixture of different styles of players, different age groups.”
Lallana will now be desperate to prove that his manager was right to offer him fresh terms last season.