Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana looks to have a tougher task on his hands to hold down a spot in Jurgen Klopp’s team going forward.
The England international is still coming back from an injury that has wiped out most of the season for him and he will be hoping to get enough football under his belt to claim a place in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI at the World Cup. But he won’t be the only midfielder at Anfield with that aim. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined the club from Arsenal last season and has improved his form a great deal since his first few appearances for the club. Not only does he represent an obstacle to Lallana at club level, but he is also a rival for a place in the national side. Lallana will also see RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita arrive on 1st July and the Guinea international is certain to start next season as a first-choice midfielder in Klopp’s side. That will only mean increased competition for a place in the team and Lallana could see his standing in the squad drift from being a regular to a more peripheral role. The former Southampton man was a key player for Klopp during the 2016/17 season, in which he contributed eight goals and seven assists in the Premier League. But he has suffered a fairly serious injury since then and is in danger of becoming yesterday’s news.
The 0-0 stalemate against Porto was a fine example of how Lallana could struggle next season. He was utilised in a more advanced position, similar to the one he initially played for the team after signing, and he looked too slow for that role. His best hope is to make a claim for himself to return to the side in the link position between attack and midfield, which Philippe Coutinho occupied until his exit in January. But Lallana doesn’t appear to offer enough creativity or goal threat to be a genuine long-term contender. His goal return and assist contribution last season was decent, but it was his energy and pressing which was most valuable to the team. Klopp has tweaked the way he sets out his side since the Brazilian joined Barcelona and there is less of a gap where the playmaker used to ply his trade. Lallana was never going to be a like for like replacement, but he had the chance to stake a claim for the spot in the side and it hasn’t so far worked out for him since he came back into the side. Perhaps his frustration with his situation was shown when he was sent off for manhandling an opponent while playing for the under-23 side to gain some sharpness.
That dismissal could also have been due to frustration with his lack of mobility. Lallana has never been a fast player, but he turns thirty in May and that is never going to be plus in his favour with Klopp. The German has always tended to keep the average age down in his squads and the current one is no exception. At twenty-six, Virgil Van Dijk is a relatively old signing for Klopp, especially when considering the price tag. But he has almost four years on Lallana and hasn’t reached his peak yet. It could be strongly argued that Lallana has gone past his now, especially in this system, and he may never again be a first-choice player at the club. He will become one of just four players in their thirties in the squad in May, along with James Milner, Ragnar Klavan and Simon Mignolet – and none of those look assured of anything more than a potential future as bit-part players at Anfield. Links to Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi won’t bode well for Lallana either, given the fact the Nigeria international is just twenty-one years of age. All of this doesn’t mean that Lallana will be sold this Summer, far from it, but it shows that he is likely to see his game time reduce going forward and he will take on a role similar to that of Milner.
The midfield has been highlighted as the area which needs to the most improvement in the Summer. And many will agree with that sentiment. Emre Can looks increasingly likely to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the season and Lallana won’t be able to offer cover for the German. They play different roles and if Can does end up moving on, another player will likely be signed to cover the loss. Lallana is more likely to be competing with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita and Wijnaldum for a slightly more advanced midfield role. He is likely to lose out in the battle with those younger players, particularly the first two, for starts next season. He hasn’t made a big claim for a place of late, with no goals or assists contributed so far this season. His biggest input to the first-team so far this season was winning the penalty against Everton at Anfield in the FA Cup third round win. Aside from that, it’s hard to pinpoint many moments where he has positively impacted on a game for us.
In his defence, he has been coming back from injury and is still looking for match sharpness – and the level of performance expected here is physically demanding. But maintaining that lack of impact is only going to go against him in an era where hitting the ground running is a major asset for a player. Klopp has shown a lot of faith in Lallana and is unlikely to give up on him any time soon, but he will need to start repaying that faith with some goals and assists before the season is over. We are still in a fight for a top four spot and have a huge tie coming up against Manchester City. David Silva has shown that a lack of pace and mobility is not an immovable obstacle. The Spain international is thirty-two years old now and is an integral part of one of the most mobile and intense sides the Premier League has seen. So precedent is there.
Many supporters started the season with Lallana in their own first-choice sides for the campaign, but many would now favour a midfield trio without his presence. That of course shows how fickle football fans are in the modern era, but the game moves faster than ever and it isn’t without reason that he would now be a backup player in the minds of many a Red. Ultimately it is only important what Klopp thinks, but Lallana isn’t starting many games and looks well short of the level required to do so regularly. Perhaps his manager has afforded him the rest of the season as a sharpening exercise and will use him more next season, but the odds of that aren’t favourable.
While it is clearly a shame for Lallana, on a personal level, that the team has evolved and his place in it is under scrutiny, it is of overall benefit to the club that Klopp has not allowed things to stand still. Long may the improvements continue and debates over who should play carry on. It’s always better to have options than teams which pick themselves.