Liverpool have seen players improve drastically since Jürgen Klopp arrived on Merseyside just over a year ago. The likes of Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino took their games to another level under the eyes of the German.
One player though who has arguably changed the most and turned his Anfield career upside down is Adam Lallana. The £25 million signing from Southampton had struggled to ever prove that he had a place on Merseyside. Injuries and general lack of form meant he both frustrated and failed to impress fans to ever think he was the real deal.
Fast forward to this season though and it all seems to be a distant memory. Lallana has been in sensational form in recent weeks with his performances seeing him rewarded with Liverpool’s Standard Chartered Player of the Month for September. The award was richly deserved and has shown just how much the England international has turned up his level of play since the beginning of the season.
Lallana’s role in the team has been completely changed from the wide attacking midfielder in the three behind the striker from last season to the deeper central midfielder who is key to the Liverpool press, and his late runs have cause opposition problems all season.
The perception of Lallana from most Liverpool fans before the start of the season was that he was a good, hard working ball player who didn’t have an end product. A total of five goals and three assists in 27 Premier League games last season would be considered a poor outlay for an attacking midfielder.
Already this season though, Lallana has registered three goals and three assists and should comfortably pass five league goals. It appears a mixture of increased confidence and position change that has caused this as he now has more time on the ball due to his deeper role and is much more free in terms of both where he can go (basically anywhere) and the less attention paid to him by a specific player because of his central role.
It was therefore a massive blow to both Liverpool and England when Lallana departed the Liberty Stadium in the first half of Liverpool’s victory over Swansea before the international break due to injury and is unlikely to make the starting eleven for the huge clash against Manchester United.
Lallana is such a key component to the Liverpool press which Jürgen Klopp emphasises massively. His energy to get around the pitch as well as his recovery has been outstanding so far this season and he has broken out of the shackles to take on a role of increased responsibility in the Liverpool engine room.
Not only that but he has scored in both home games so far this season after a thumping effort in the 4-1 win against Leicester and the opener in the 5-1 victory over Hull. Two of his assists have also come at Anfield this season.
What options do Liverpool have?
Of course, Lallana is not the only Liverpool player who can press the ball well and create chances for himself and others. If Lallana and midfield partner Georginio Wijnaldum, who would also be a big miss, are both still carrying injuries it is expected the Philippe Coutinho would drop into a deeper role just like he did against Swansea.
Whilst it wasn’t the Brazilian’s greatest game in a Liverpool shirt in the early Saturday kick-off he has similar attributes to Lallana in terms of willingness to work hard and win the ball as well as quality in and around the area when Liverpool go forward. Coutinho may become victim to the physicality of the game with Manchester United’s midfield carrying a huge height advantage in the likes of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini.
It is unlikely that Klopp will change a system that has worked so well so far this season but he may push Jordan Henderson further forward and take over the pressing responsibilities but his quality on the ball especially in tight spaces, where Lallana likes to work, is not really comparable. It would mean a probable first start for Emre Can who would come in and sit at the base of the midfield three. At the same time he may choose to keep Henderson where he is and bring in Emre Can as the box to box midfielder but the German has yet to start a Premier League game and giving him the high press responsibility could mean he burns out very quickly.
Without doubt Lallana will be missed if he is unable to line-up to start the game on Monday but Liverpool showed that he is not a necessity for them to win games (Liverpool were 1-0 down to Swansea when Lallana left the field only to come back and win 2-1).
The balance that Lallana has provided to the Liverpool midfield through the opening stages of the season though may mean the Liverpool midfield is not as stable as it would like to be. The international break has not helped Klopp in terms of planning how to set his team up because of an inability to work with all of his players due to them playing for their countries.
There is still the glimmer of hope of course that Lallana does make the game as he has not officially been ruled out. What Liverpool fans wouldn’t like to see would be a half fit Adam Lallana rushed back for the game and aggravating his injury further. He has a key role to play for Liverpool this season and it’s important to manage his recovery properly.
Lallana will be missed against Manchester United on Monday if he does not start. Liverpool fans will be hoping though that his replacement is more than capable of stepping up to the plate to help Liverpool to a victory over their old rivals.