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02nd Dec 2016

Why the idea that Adam Lallana is a player transformed under Jurgen Klopp is a myth

That notion does not conform to the reality of what has actually happened

Tony Barrett

Aside from sounding like a cross between a biblical parable and a spaghetti western in which the outlaw with eleven o’clock shadow sees the light and becomes a clean shaven sheriff, the transformation of Adam Lallana is an idea that has become increasingly established in English football.

From being a willing but ineffective wide forward under Brendan Rodgers to becoming the midfield heartbeat of Jurgen Klopp’s resurgent Liverpool, the consensus is that he is a changed man, a player who has discovered what was going wrong and put it right.

Like many theories, this one has taken hold because it is easy to believe. Lallana is, clearly, performing better now than he was in his first season at Anfield and his influence on the Liverpool team is such that they function less well without him such is the effect he has on Klopp’s favoured pressing game and the fluency of their attacking play.

On Sunday he will return to Bournemouth, the club where he started his youth career, having established himself as one of Liverpool’s most influential players. But this isn’t a story of a player being transformed, it is a case of a team being developed in such a way that it allows its most talented players to shine.

Lallana always had ability, his feet are as nimble now as they were two years ago and his football instincts were as sharp when Brendan Rodgers convinced Liverpool to pay £25m for him as they have been shown to be in the opening months of this season; the difference is to be found more in what is going on around him than what is happening with Lallana himself.

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Lallana learned much under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton (Getty Images)

Now when he leads a press, in keeping with the teachings of Mauricio Pochettino, his manager at Southampton, others follow. Now, when he takes possession, he doesn’t hold on to the ball for too long because of a shortage of options or a lack of movement ahead, he moves the ball quickly and accurately.

Go back to the 2014/15 season when he was one of nine signings made following the departure of Luis Suarez and it is clear that the Liverpool that Lallana arrived at was very different to the one he is at now. Then, they were a club in transition, one in which the manager’s transfer strategy did not always dovetail with the club’s, hence Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert being among the incomings at a time when Suarez was an irreplaceable outgoing.

To make matters worse, Lallana arrived with a knee injury sustained at the World Cup which resulted in him missing much of pre-season and the start of the new season. This isn’t to excuse his difficult first season but it it does go some way to explaining it, operating behind a dysfunctional attack is far from ideal for any creative player after all.

If there is a key difference it is to be found in the levels of faith that have been shown in him by the two mangers that he has worked under. Lallana will always be grateful to Rodgers for giving him the opportunity to sign for Liverpool but the Northern Irishman never quite came up with a strategy that would have allowed the England international to produce his best on a regular basis. The same went for the likes of Emre Can, Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic too, but Lallana being substituted became a regular occurrence as he finished only 14 of the 32 league games he started in his debut campaign.

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 04: Adam Lallana (L) of Liverpool FC shakes hands with his head coach Brendan Rodgers (R) after the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 4, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)It never clicked for Lallana under Rodgers (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)


For whatever reason, the belief that Rodgers had shown in Lallana when taking the decision to sign him did not translate to his tactical decisions with a particular low point coming at Old Trafford in December 2014 when he was taken off at half-time even though he had been one of Liverpool’s better performers during the first half.

Those who know him best admit that decision had been especially difficult for him to take, with his disquiet at his own predicament being outstripped only by his disappointment at Liverpool losing the game 3-0. 

That is why the faith that Klopp has shown in him has allowed Lallana to express himself in the way he had previously at Southampton. Gone is the fear that if he didn’t score or do something of similar significance in the first half he would be withdrawn early in the second. That pressure no longer exists, at least no more than it does for any other player, and although Klopp took Lallana off in his first game in charge, away to Tottenham Hotspur, that only happened after the 28-year-old had gegenpressed himself into the ground.

Tellingly, Lallana began to start and finish an increasing number of games. A turning point had been reached. “He’s shown trust and belief in me since he’s come here,” Lallana said of Klopp in recognition of the positive effect that his current manager has had on him.

There can be no question that Lallana is a Klopp player in the same way that he was a Pochettino player. In terms of his reading of when to trigger a press and his willingness to run for the benefit of others, he is a prototype of the kind of attacker that the former Borussia Dortmund manager prizes so highly.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp shares a joke with Adam Lallana during a training session ahead of their Capital One Cup final match against Manchester City at Melwood Training Ground on February 26, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)There’s no doubt Lallana is a Klopp player (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)


Having operated so effectively under Pochettino, Lallana bristles at the idea that he is now fitter than he was at the start of his Liverpool career, insisting that a combination of the team being set up better and the regularity with which he is completing fixtures has allowed both his energy and his stamina to become more apparent. Again, it is about Liverpool changing for the better rather than himself but he has unquestionably been one of the chief beneficiaries of the improvements that have taken place around him.

Where Lallana has excelled is he has made the most of those enhancements, embracing a switch to a deeper midfield role to such an extent that he is now widely regarded as one of Liverpool’s – and England’s – best players with his appetite for industry making him key to the approach of both Klopp and Gareth Southgate. The process of adaptation, though, began at Southampton, it has just been accelerated and redefined at Liverpool, which is why Lallana recently dismissed suggestions that his story is one of reinvention.

“No, I don’t really feel like a transformed man,” he said recently, underlining his view that the players around him, most notably Roberto Firmino whom he regards as one of the best he has played with, are giving him the opportunity to show more regularly what he always could do. 

Perhaps the strongest indication of the extent to which Lallana has now established himself at Anfield is the regard in which he his held by his team mates. Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain, regularly singles him out for praise and last week told that Klopp’s decision to move him into central midfield had been “a stroke of genius.”

Others tell of Lallana’s clean cut, wholesome image not being wholly in keeping with the player who they confront on the training pitch on a daily basis and play alongside at regular intervals. “He can be a proper nark on the pitch,” said one. “He’s always barking orders and letting us know when he thinks we’re slacking. He’s also not afraid to leave his foot in and get stuck in. He’s not just a touch player. He’s one of our hardest workers and he helps set the tone for everyone else.”

Klopp’s opinion of him is equally high. After last season’s 4-0 win over Everton at Anfield, plaudits rained down on several Liverpool players, most notably Philippe Coutinho, and although Klopp recognised that such praise was not undue, he was left perplexed by the failure of many to appreciate the crucial role that Lallana had played in the victory.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 20: Tom Cleverley of Everton closes down Adam Lallana of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield, April 20, 2016, Liverpool, England (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)Lallana was crucial in Liverpool’s win over Everton (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)


Emerging from the dressing room after the game, Klopp’s first move was to approach a club official to ask how so many had not seen what he had. “Why isn’t everyone talking about Adam? he asked. “People have no idea how important he is to us.”

Whether he is Klopp’s and Liverpool’s most important player is open to debate, particularly given the extent of Firmino’s influence on the team and how it works, but he is undoubtedly one of them. Zeljko Buvac, Klopp’s assistant, is regarded as a man of few words but during games the most regular recipient of praise from the Serb is Lallana who often gets a thumbs up for doing the kind of work that goes unnoticed by others. The reason for that is that Klopp and his staff view Lallana as one who sacrifices himself for others and that makes them determined to recognise his efforts even when they are largely unseen.

Although Lallana still comes off in games, more often than not it is when Liverpool have the match won and Klopp is taking the opportunity to give one of his key players an additional rest.

Equally importantly, when he does depart it is usually to the sight and sound of a standing ovation in appreciation of the way he has played. In that sense, much has changed with regard to Adam Lallana but the player himself and those who know him best would maintain that the biggest changes have taken place around him and that the idea that he is a player transformed does not conform to the reality of what has actually happened.

But regardless of that, he heads to Bournemouth this weekend as one of Liverpool’s and England’s most influential players and that is what matters most.    

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