It’s amazing how two different managers can see different things in the same player. Or perhaps even more amazingly, how two different managers can see the same thing in the same player, but have completely different ideas on how to best get it out of them. Adam Lallana’s form under Liverpool’s last two managers, Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp, provides a classic example.
At the age of 29, Lallana is not only a key figure for the Reds but also the England national team, as one of the rare few England players of his generation blessed with the intellect, movement and guile to unlock opposition defences with delicate passes in tight areas, cute runs in between the lines and the touch and circumferential vision to change the angle of play.
Much like Joe Cole, he may not be one of the most glamorous names on the England team-sheet and he may often be crowbarred into unnatural positions, but he’s consistently delivered on the world stage, providing the fluidity and flair that often seems absent from the English footballer DNA. Rather tellingly, after playing key roles in relatively positive Group Stage performances against Russia, Wales and Slovakia, Lallana missed England’s nightmare defeat to Iceland through injury. Things may have been different with the Liverpool man pulling the strings in front of a water-tight Iceland rearguard.
But it hasn’t always been the highs of widespread appreciation since Lallana moved to Anfield from Southampton in summer 2014 after being a part of England’s World Cup squad. His £25million transfer fee didn’t convince everybody and the midfielder struggled to justify it during his first season at the club. As Brendan Rodgers’ side finished the season in sixth place, Lallana produced less goals and assists than he’d managed for Saints the term before, despite them ending the 2013/14 campaign in eighth. Alongside Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, Lallana was part of a clan of Southampton imports who’d failed to make the step up to Liverpool’s level – wasting the club a small fortune in the process.
The big change came a matter of months into Lallana’s second season on Merseyside, when the man who brought him to Anfield, Rodgers, was abruptly sacked in favour of former Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp. This week, a debate has raged over whether Klopp’s actually improved upon the performance of his predecessor, who boasted a better record than him after 66 Premier League fixtures, but there’s no questioning Klopp’s profound impact on Lallana’s Liverpool career.
The sway in form was by no means instantaneous – Lallana’s first goal under the Klopp’s tutelage didn’t come until January in a nine-goal thriller with Norwich City – but the Liverpool gaffer had already started using the 31-cap international in a different kind of way. Whereas Rodgers had asked Lallana to provide his playmaking qualities from out wide, seemingly a consequence of his ability to play with either foot, Klopp saw the benefits of using the ambipedal midfielder in more central roles. He became the No.10, albeit often working in tandem with Philippe Coutinho in the same role alongside him, and the recurring link between the midfield and the attack.
The current campaign has seen Lallana’s role modified once again, this time dropping slightly deeper into the engine room. Rodgers wanted Lallana higher up the pitch because of the impact he could have in the final third, finishing his final season at Southampton with nine goals and five assists to his name. Counter-intuitively, however moving further away from goal has seen the Reds ace produce the best returns of his Liverpool career in terms of strikes and set-ups, with seven apiece. He’s also increased his chances created ratio by 0.32 per match. Rodgers knew Lallana was capable of affecting the scoreline in that way, but it’s Klopp who has found the best strategy to ensure he does so.
Rather tellingly, Liverpool’s win-rate drops by 4% when Lallana isn’t in the starting line-up, and that highlights how important he’s become to the way Klopp wants his team to play – energetic, fluid, creative and clinical. Lallana embodies all of those traits and even at the age of 29, he looks set to be an integral player for Liverpool in the seasons to come.