Adam Lallana is facing a race to prove that he can have a future at the club beyond the end of the season. The England international has had an injury hit year or two as is looking like the forgotten man at Anfield.
After Jurgen Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers, the manager who brought Lallana to the club from Southampton, the attacking midfielder looked like one of the players who understood what the German wanted from his players most. He moved from a wide attacking role, a position which did not suit him, to a deeper midfield position which allowed him to influence the game more with his pressing and ability to keep hold of possession. He quickly became one of Klopp’s most trusted and called upon players.
But things changed when he picked up an injury against Atletico Madrid in a preseason friendly. He missed a big chunk of the 2017/18 campaign, which was a very promising one for the Liverpool squad. He managed to regain fitness in time to come off the bench in the Champions League final after Mohamed Salah was injured in the first-half. But he looked way off the pace and couldn’t have any positive impact on the game. It was a microcosm for many supporters of where Lallana stood at that point and some felt that he needed to be moved on this past Summer.
He has had an injury plagued start to this season as well, with niggly issues limiting him to starts against Cardiff City in the Premier League and Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League. He came close to scoring against the Welsh side with a headed chance cleared off the line, but his performance against the Serbians was much-maligned by many fans. He struggled to have much impact, aside from helping to create a clear cut chance for Daniel Sturridge in the first-half, and looked too slow and laboured in the main. He was criticised for holding on to the ball for too long by some, while there were others who were more sympathetic to the imbalance between patience and his lack of match action.
Lallana will turn thirty-one in May and will need to prove his worth to the team if he wants to see his situation develop into something similar to that of James Milner, for example. The first thing he needs to do is maintain fitness, so that he can be available from the bench or to start when Klopp wants to rotate his options in busy periods – such as the upcoming congested festive fixture list.
Liverpool are not currently resplendent with attacking midfield options in the squad, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s directness missing thanks to the injury he suffered against Roma last season and Harry Wilson being unproven and out on loan at Championship side Derby County. Lallana has a great opportunity to challenge for a role in the side to link up the midfield and attack – something which has been an issue for the team so far this season. But all the time he is struggling to regain full fitness and match sharpness, he represents a gamble and is unlikely to be afforded many chances to show what he can do.
The signing of Xherdan Shaqiri won’t have helped the former Southampton man’s situation in the squad. The Swiss international has got better and better as he’s been given opportunities to adjust to the way Liverpool are setup to play this season. He is scoring goals and linking up well with his new team-mates. The return to fitness of Naby Keita is also likely to restrict Lallana’s chances to get into the side as well, with the Guinea international showing more of what he can do with a man of the match performance against Burnley this week.
The news that Wilson is unlikely to be recalled from his loan spell in January is likely to come as a relief to Lallana. The Wales international has been in fine form for Frank Lampard’s side and has got a lot of fans excited about what he could bring to the side if he were to come back in the new year. But the decision to leave him where he is will only delay the inevitible – he will return to Anfield next Summer and is likely to have earnt the chance to be given an opportunity in the first-team next season. That could leave Lallana’s future in serious jeopardy if he is unable to start playing more in the second half of the campaign.
There are still Liverpool supporters who believe that he can reclaim a place in the side once he gets back to fitness, but their number is dwindling and the strong faith placed in him by Klopp has to be decreasing over time as well. It’s going to be make or break for Lallana in the first part of next year – or he could see his future elsewhere in the 2019/20 season.