Rarely has there been a player who divides the Liverpool fan base as much as Adam Lallana. Ever since his £25 million arrival in the summer of 2014, he has failed to convince the majority of fans that he was worth the significant sum of money Liverpool paid Southampton to secure his services. Injuries and inconsistency had overshadowed his debut season at Liverpool, but since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp in October, the new manager has reinvigorated Lallana, making him an integral part of his team. More recently, many fans have come to appreciate the important role Lallana plays in this side, whilst others remain firm in their criticism, frustrated at his lack of end product.
Here are the stats. Lallana has made a total of 64 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 8 goals and registering 7 assists. That works out at one goal every eight games- hardly prolific for an attacking midfielder. This season so far, he has 2 goals and 3 assists, although he is yet to score in the Premier League this season, with both his goals coming in the Europa League group stage. From a purely statistical point of view, these numbers are hardly encouraging. For a £25 million attacking player, we should be expecting more end product on a regular basis.
However, the degree of criticism Lallana receives from fans on a weekly basis is unmerited. By only considering the numbers in terms of goals and assists, this provides a somewhat skewed picture of Lallana’s performances. Lallana has been a core part of Klopp’s Liverpool side, and his work rate is a vitally important part of the way Klopp wants his team to play. Lallana’s ability to effectively and intelligently press the opposition over 90 minutes is better than that of any other Liverpool player. He plays a crucial role in setting the tempo, closing down the opposition and helping to win the ball back for his team. Regaining possession is not usually an attribute one would associate with small, technically gifted creative players, but it is one of Lallana’s greatest strengths. For this reason, Liverpool invariably play better with Lallana in the side. Stats don’t do justice to the importance of his intensity and energy on the field.
Lallana remains a technically gifted player. He is perfectly two-footed, able to shift the ball on to either side with ease- a rare talent among professional footballers. His first touch is superb, and he regularly displays his ability to turn out of tight situations using his close ball control. From an aesthetic point of view, he can be a pleasure to watch in the way he glides past opponents. In many ways, he looks like a Spanish or Brazilian footballer- not your typical English midfielder. When in full flight, Lallana does not look out of place alongside his Brazilian accomplices- Firmino and Coutinho. This trio have been used to great effect on a couple of occasions this season, most notably the 3-1 and 4-1 away victories over Chelsea and Man City. The movement and interplay between them was a joy to behold, and Lallana played a significant role in these victories, as well as in the 6-1 thrashing of Southampton in the League Cup. The stats may not show it, because he didn’t score or assist, but it’s no coincidence how Lallana featured prominently in our three most impressive performances of the season.
There are of course areas where Lallana falls short. There’s no escaping the fact he needs to add more goals and assists to his game. His chance creation of just 1.47 chances per game must be improved upon. His attacking decision making is often questionable, as he can take too many touches on the ball and delay the final pass, failing to spot his team mates’ runs. In the 3-0 defeat against Watford, he was totally anonymous, failing to complete even the simplest of passes on several occasions. But it is unfair to point the finger at Lallana alone, when the entire Liverpool side, with the exception of Henderson and Origi, where all abysmal on this occasion. Lallana responded well against Leicester, putting in a strong performance to help earn a deserved 3 points against the league leaders.
Lallana seems to have mastered the art of playing well without scoring goals this season. However, this should not hide the fact that he has been one of our better performers on a weekly basis ever since Klopp’s arrival. The agenda against Lallana from many fans means that often he is made the scapegoat for poor team performances. Roberto Firmino has hardly set the world alight since his £21 million (plus add-ons) arrival in the summer, but is often excused from blame, with fans defending him by saying ‘he needs time to settle’. This may be true, but Lallana has contributed more than Firmino this season and deserves a great deal more credit than he receives.
Goals and assists are important, but they are not adequate means by themselves to judge a player. Take Andres Iniesta, for instance. Long considered one of the greatest creative midfielders in the world over the past decade, his stats in recent seasons have been very much comparable to Lallana. Last season, Iniesta scored no goals and registered 1 assist for Barcelona as they won La Liga. This season, he has 1 goal and 1 assist in the league. No one would question the vital role Iniesta still has to play in this Barcelona side, but his end product is far from prolific. I must make it clear than I am in no way inferring that Lallana is even remotely close to the level of Iniesta. Iniesta is on another planet in footballing terms- Lallana doesn’t even come close. My point is merely to illustrate that judging players purely by their goals and assists returns does not always provide an accurate picture of their importance to the team.
Liverpool are a better team when Lallana plays. He links midfield and attack, puts in a tremendous shift for 90 minutes and has superb technical ability, able to play in a whole range of positions. Granted, he does need to deliver more end product and create more chances by improving his decision making in the final third. In the long run, his role may see him become more of a squad player, but right now, he deserves his starting role. Overall, it would be fair to say that Lallana’s Liverpool career has been underwhelming, but to criticise him as much as some fans do, because of his price tag, is unjust. He did not choose a £25 million price tag, and this has often been used as a stick to beat him with, without recognising his worth to the team. Had he cost £10-15 million, I highly doubt fans would criticise him as much. Whilst there is plenty of room for improvement, we must appreciate the crucial nature of Lallana’s role in transferring Klopp’s footballing philosophy on to the field of play.