As Liverpool comfortably defeated Arsenal on Saturday at Anfield, the Gunners admittedly were far from their best, particularly in an appalling firsthalf display.
During Liverpool’s 3-1 win, Arsène Wenger's side could never take control of the game through their traditional method of dominating possession, especially through the centre of the pitch.
While every Liverpool player performed well at the weekend, one man in particular stood out and ensured the Arsenal players would never have any time on the ball. That man not that long ago was unable to ever finish matches in a Liverpool shirt, consistently being substituted by Jürgen Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers.
However, Adam Lallana now finds himself back in a position of importance at a club, which the 28-year-old last experienced when he was captain at Southampton.
Midfielder finally fully worthy of his starting spot for the Reds
Lallana was poor when he first arrived at Liverpool from the south-coast in 2014, with the £25 million signing unable to influence matches and unaccustomed to playing for Liverpool and the expectations that run parallel with the role.
It did not help that Rodgers was unsure about where to play the England international, and Lallana in the 2014-15 season would remain stifled as he played out wide in a side that was struggling for confidence and consistency, following their near-miss at the Premier League title and the departure of Luis Suárez.
Once Klopp arrived the following season, Lallana’s fortunes at Anfield began to turn, though he remained in a wide position. Yet Lallana began to form a potent attacking trio with Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, versatile and interchangeable, allowing Lallana to drift inside with purpose and establish coherent link-up play with those alongside him, instead of maintaining a fixed position.
Liverpool’s front three terrorised teams, particularly Manchester City - beating them 4-1 away from home only a month into Klopp's tenure, and Lallana now was becoming an important part of Liverpool’s set-up, instead of a rotated, hesitant figure.
Yet even this summer question marks remained over how Lallana’s future would unfold under Klopp, given the additions of Sadio Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum, and the form of Daniel Sturridge near the end of the previous season. Would he return to a peripheral status?
Similar concerns were expressed for James Milner and captain Jordan Henderson, but Klopp had a few tricks up his sleeve, with all three re-assigned to new positions for the 2016-17 season – to considerable success.
Milner might be beginning to show some inconsistency at left-back, but his transformation was the most radical, and at 31 he is not getting any younger. Henderson has grown into a very capable deep-lying midfielder, but he still needs a proper defensive shield alongside, which would allow the skipper to showcase his excellent box-to-box abilities on a more regular basis.
For Lallana, he has been the best of the three.
Moved into a central attacking position, ahead of Henderson but behind the front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Mane, Lallana has not only maintained his importance to this Liverpool team but increased it, becoming absolutely integral.
Klopp loves him, and much of this transpires from the immense intensity that Lallana now demonstrates on a game-by-game basis. No longer is he one of the first to come off, but instead resembles the last man standing – harassing the opposition even late into matches, and becoming the fittest player at the club.
Lallana the leading man for Klopp's tireless style-of-play
Lallana is the figurehead for Klopp’s ‘gegenpressing’ strategy, which the Englishman bought into immediately, shown by his relentless pressing in Klopp’s first game in charge at Liverpool, against Tottenham Hotspur. Even the embrace when Lallana was eventually substituted showed that a partnership was in the making.
Lallana continued such standards throughout the remainder of Klopp’s debut season, but he, alongside many other Liverpool players, found it difficult at times to capitalise on the ball when they had worked so hard to win it high up the pitch, with their creativity suffering from expending so much energy defending from the front.
However, Klopp worked on this issue over the summer, and as the players have grown more accustomed to the German’s demands, they have been able to maintain both their attacking fluency and recently acquired tenacity when out of possession.
Lallana’s shift in position has aided his development in this transition, able to use his now seemingly limitless energy to press all over the pitch, but starting from the middle than out wide.
Lallana is able to influence Liverpool’s play going forward from all angles now that Klopp has emboldened him with such responsibilities in the middle, and Lallana has responded and grown in confidence and status at Liverpool.
He is not the quickest, therefore is more suited to playing through the middle, using his control and vision to open up space and create opportunities for others (such as the movement, awareness and pass to Divock Origi for Liverpool’s third goal on Saturday), with Mané in particular the wide option for Klopp with the Senegalese’s pace.
Yet again, it promises to be a summer of change at Anfield, with plenty of players set to arrive and depart. The fact that Lallana’s name will not be mentioned at all is testament to the progress he has made at Liverpool.
By completely reversing the perceptions of him from his early days at Anfield, Lallana has ensured - quite literally - his central position in Klopp’s side going forward.