While much has been made of the big-money signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, one of the big factors in Jurgen Klopp’s success at Liverpool has been the manager’s ability to transform a struggling player’s reputation.
Divock Origi has gone from having no future at Anfield to becoming Liverpool’s clutch goalscorer. Once a figure of derision, Jordan Henderson is now deserved captain of the European and world champions. Before a recent injury, Joel Matip evolved from inconsistent centre-back to Van Dijk’s partner-in-crime. Roberto Firmino was once used as a stick with which to beat ‘laptop guru’ Michael Edwards but is now the perfect No.9. Alberto Moreno, admittedly, was a lost cause.
After two injury-hit seasons in which he made just six Premier League starts, meanwhile, Adam Lallana became Liverpool’s forgotten man. The midfielder was a key figure under Klopp when the German first replaced Brendan Rodgers, but the Reds moved on in his absence and it seemed only a matter of time before he left Merseyside.
Every Lallana re-appearance ensured the social media banter brigade were topped up with material for another couple of days, not least when Klopp spoke in pre-season of using the former England international in a “Jorginho role” at the base of midfield.
Yet it turns out Klopp may know a thing or two about the ol’ football. Minutes on the pitch still remain relatively scarce for Lallana, but he has found the time to prove his doubters wrong, leaving Klopp ruing the fact the 31-year-old is likely to leave on a free transfer when his contract expires in the summer.
While Klopp deserves enormous credit for keep faith in the player, Lallana himself should be the man to receive the most plaudits for rising to the challenge and evolving into Liverpool’s one-size-fits-all saviour from the bench.
A late cameo against Leicester City in October saw him enter the field with instructions to boil as much p*ss as possible, making the Foxes lose their heads while Liverpool kept theirs to steal all three points in the 94th minute. Two weeks later he came off the bench to rescue a point against Manchester United with an 85th-minute equaliser at Old Trafford. Earlier this month Klopp was left quite literally doffing his cap to Lallana after he marshalled a team of kids to victory in the Merseyside derby, dominating Everton’s midfield in the second half.
And as Liverpool began to toil at Tottenham on Saturday, Klopp once again turned to his trusted lieutenant to hold things together.
Adam Lallana's substitute performance vs Tottenham pic.twitter.com/OcL0wkr4g7
— LFC Comps (@LFCComps) January 11, 2020
Leading 1-0 thanks to Roberto Firmino’s first-half opener, Liverpool were put under considerable pressure by Tottenham after the break, forced into uncharacteristic errors and backs-to-the-wall defending. Lallana may not seem the obvious answer to such problems, but his introduction in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with half an hour remaining proved to be exactly what they required.
The above compilation shows all the typical qualities you associate with Lallana; neat passing, slick turns, constant movement. It may seem simple, but at a time when the game was becoming fractured and the visitors were struggling to string things together, the former Southampton man completed 25 of his 27 attempted passes. He ended the game with a pass completion rate of 92.6%; Oxlade-Chamberlain’s, in comparison, was just 75.9%.
But what the video fails to properly highlight is Lallana’s work out of possession. He may hardly be known as a destructive presence in the middle of the park, but his three tackles were more than both centre-backs Van Dijk and Joe Gomez managed, while he also made one interception. To put that into context, fellow central midfielders Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum failed to make either a tackle or interception.
One intervention stood out above the rest, as Lallana raced back to stop Son Heung-min having a shot at goal from a dangerous position at the edge of the box with a perfectly-timed last-ditch tackle, displaying a grit and b*stardry he’s rarely given credit for.
To cap off an eye-catching display, deep into stoppage time he broke up play in his own half before eventually taking the ball down from a difficult pass into the corner with a sumptuous touch and turn, killing off Tottenham’s hopes of having one last attack on Liverpool’s goal and leaving Gary Neville purring in commentary.
It may seem like a simple piece of play, but at a time when Liverpool were trying their best to make things difficult, it was an invaluable exercise in taking responsibility to ease the pressure on his team-mates.
If Lallana does indeed leave Liverpool this summer, he’s likely to do so with a Premier League winners’ medal around his neck and enormous goodwill from a fanbase, and manager, that have seen him prove his worth.
By Rob Conlon