Despite an abject European Championship performance by his national team, Adam Lallana shone throughout 2016 and was voted England’s player of the year. It was his best year since his Southampton days, and arguably the best in his entire career.
In the 2016/17 season, the Liverpool midfielder provided eight goals and seven assists in the Premier League for his club, his highest return of goals and assists in a single campaign.
A serious hamstring injury sustained in July 2017 ruled the Bournemouth academy player out for the start of the current season and forced him out of Jurgen Klopp’s for 21 games.
Big shoes to Phil
By the time Lallana was back in the fold by November, Liverpool’s attacking unit was flying and in no need of reinforcements. With Philippe Coutinho firing on all cylinders, the Englishman was reduced to appearances from the bench, making his season debut in a one minute cameo against Chelsea.
Coutinho’s form had already caught the eye of Barcelona, who had flirted with the Brazilian in the summer. Eventually, the pull of the Catalan club proved to big and Coutinho’s dream move was granted in the January transfer window earlier this year.
Consequently, the Reds were light a key attacking threat. Lallana, whilst not being the same level of quality as the outgoing Coutinho, was considered a player who could perform a similar role. He can provide key passes for the forwards whilst also contributing goals himself, just on a lesser scale to his former teammate.
Klopp gave Lallana just one chance to prove himself though. His only start this campaign came at Turf Moor where he made no significant impact against Burnley. Since then, the upturn in form of compatriots James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has gone against him.
That the German manager has preferred a hard working, rigid midfield three to support Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah has also gone against Lallana, who is best at drifting in between the midfield and the forwards, offering less defensive protection.
On top of Lallana’s positional woes in Klopp’s system, his bad injury luck struck again. Earlier this month, he was confirmed to miss several weeks of action following a hamstring injury picked up against Crystal Palace.
The lengthy injury sustained in preseason was also a hamstring injury and this could lead to further concern amongst the Liverpool medical team. Is the England midfielder really good enough to justify his inclusion in the squad if he is at such a risk of spells on the medical table?
To a lesser extent, his situation is beginning to mirror that of Daniel Sturridge. Sturridge, partnered with Luis Suarez, enjoyed the best season of his career whilst at Anfield, but his injuries came back to haunt him after a long run in the team.
There are few who doubt Sturridge’s ability, but when a star striker is likely to miss half the season, questions are raised over whether they are worth their salt.
Once he returns from Cape Town, where he is currently recovering, Lallana needs to take his time to reestablish himself on Merseyside. Any recurrence of his hamstring problems will make him surplus to requirements before he is undoubtedly left out in the cold.
The one thing which he has in his favour is the continued support of the manager. Even at the beginning of Klopp’s time at Anfield, his connection with Lallana was obvious to see. After his last-minute winner at Norwich in Klopp’s debut season, Lallana ran straight to the bench to celebrate with his new boss.
In recent weeks, the manager has come out to support the 29-year-old, claiming it makes the season even more special that they have achieved so much without the Englishman.
Liverpool fans, though, are questioning what the midfielder offers that the team needs. Reinforcements are arriving in the summer with Naby Keita set to join the squad, and another midfielder rumoured to be on the transfer wish list.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s transformation since the beginning of the campaign also renders Lallana’s comeback more difficult. As of late, few Liverpool first team players have been faltering and are now staking their claim for regular football next season.
Turning 30 years old in May means that Lallana will soon be past his best, and will struggle to justify an extension of his contract which runs until 2020 when he will be 32. Some may argue that cashing in on him now is the right option before his ability permanently takes a turn for the worse.
Found and developed on the south coast, Lallana’s move to the northwest was definitely the right move in his career in 2014. After a slow start, he showed his worth to club and country, but repeated injuries may have sent him down a path from which he cannot return.
For Lallana to retain his status as a Liverpool player, he must be patient. If he rushes back too vigorously before the end of the season and causes himself more damage, his spell at Anfield will be over.
If, however, he shows patience and works his way back via a strong preseason and a willingness to make an impact from the bench, he could remind Klopp that his unique play style offers the club a different dimension.