Following the shock mid-season sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, Liverpool have a huge Coutinho-sized hole in their squad.
A hole that some fans will say Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has already filled following his outstanding performance in Liverpool’s thrilling 4-3 win over champions-to-be Manchester City. A hole that other fans will say needs to be filled with a purchase this January transfer window. While Oxlade-Chamberlain exists as a ready-to-go, creative, and well-integrated option into the starting lineup and a new signing could offer an extra boost to the squad and additional elements complementary to the first-team not yet seen, Liverpool already have a 2-in-1 option sitting right in front of them: Adam Lallana.
Missing from action since early August, the former Southampton skipper was out with a thigh injury and did not make his first appearance until a one minute cameo against Chelsea in late November. Jurgen Klopp not only made it clear implicitly with his squad selection, but also explicitly in his press conferences that he was opposed to rushing Lallana back into the first team. Klopp was quoted mid-November saying:
“It’s completely different to Sadio [Mane]. [Lallana] was much longer out. He’s a fantastic player, but we want to have him for the season, [not one game]. The player wants to be back immediately and I’m now the bad guy who says ‘not today’! I only do it for him, for the club.”
In fact, the Englishman only just returned to the starting lineup on New Year’s Day in a 2 – 1 victory against Burnley despite being fit to train since November. It is clear that the German manager values Lallana, but it seems, in his absence, as if many have forgotten why.
Since Jurgen Klopp took over the Reds, one element of Adam Lallana’s game has improved immensely and is now arguably his best attribute: his work-rate. When Lallana signed in 2014 from Southampton, he was looked at as mainly just a flair player – a creative, twinkle-toed player eager to push forward but reluctant to go back the other way. One of his biggest criticisms was his inability to consistently last the full 90 minutes.
However, as soon as Klopp came in, the Englishman immediately bought into the German’s famous gegenpressing style and he took to it like a fish to water. In fact, some would say Lallana led Klopp’s hard-running, rock-and-roll football revolution at Anfield. Whenever the opponent gains possession, Lallana is almost always the first man running and leads Liverpool’s pressing game. His high-energy performances can be highlighted by his distance covered stats during the Premier League’s infamous winter schedule where rest is far and few between as he topped the charts for distance covered in a match twice with those two games happening just within two days between each other, via SkySports. However, it is not just with the energy or relentlessness that which he presses that makes him special, but it is the intelligence by which he presses. In a recent interview, Joe Gomez heaped praise on the 29-year-old saying:
“He always gets it right. That doesn’t just mean running, it’s timing. He senses it; like a shark when they see blood, they attack. He sees when there’s an iffy pass or the weight of pass is off or someone has a dodgy touch, he is going to punish you quickly. Even if he doesn’t win the ball, he is creating the possibility for someone else to just from his press. That’s massive with the style of play the manager wants. He is so important…he starts it for us.”
While Lallana’s pressing game and in-game intelligence make him the unique player that he most certainly is, the Englishman is first and foremost a creative attack-minded midfielder, meaning his main skillset is to create and score goals. His offensive qualities are what Liverpool purchased him for and Klopp has only further added on to the evolving talent that is Adam Lallana. His intelligent movement off-the-ball and elegant movement on-the-ball put the 29-year-old in wonderful positions to create chances, and since Klopp arrived he has begun to add goal-scoring to his repertoire. In fact, his league goal and assist numbers in the Klopp era are not that dissimilar to those of the departed Philippe Coutinho.
While not a like-for-like replacement for Coutinho, the return of a fully fit Adam Lallana to the first team will feel like a new signing for Jurgen Klopp as he did not have the English international at his disposal for just about the entire first half of the season. Aside being the obvious financially friendlier option, the difference between the Englishman’s return and a new signing is that Lallana is already fully integrated into the Liverpool team and guaranteed good and effective option for the former Dortmund manager, while a new signing would take time to settle into squad and not be a guaranteed successful and effective player for the Reds.