Less than a year ago, Adam Lallana was a central figure for both club and country. Lallana’s energy and creativity last season were vital towards Liverpool’s top four finish and he was beloved by Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp. Meanwhile, Lallana was previously voted England’s Player of the Year in 2016, illustrating his impact and importance for the national team.
Yet change happens quickly in football. One year on, Lallana is struggling for minutes at Anfield and his World Cup hopes remain in doubt.
Admittedly, Lallana’s current predicament is not down to a loss of form, but injury, suffering a thigh problem in pre-season which kept the midfielder sidelined effectively until the start of 2018.
Since, Lallana has been re-building his fitness and sharpness, but Liverpool have been unable to give him starts and ease him back into the side. The Reds were already eliminated from the League Cup, and the FA Cup quickly followed at the end of January, leaving Lallana short on opportunities.
He did start Liverpool’s 0-0 second leg stalemate against FC Porto in the Champions League, but was clearly still trying to rediscover his sharpness and confidence, though his effort, as you would expect from a character such as Lallana, was never in question.
Yet, unlike last season, there is no clear space for Lallana to return to the Liverpool side. The front three positions are automatically filled by Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, but Lallana played in Klopp’s midfield three last season anyway, as Mané, Firmino and Philippe Coutinho played in attack.
Up until January, Coutinho had been operating as Liverpool’s advanced midfielder, and his departure to Barcelona seemed to open up an opportunity for Lallana in his ideal attacking midfield slot which the Brazilian had vacated.
However, Lallana has taken longer to fully recover, which gave the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner incentive to push for greater first-team football, with the deeper midfield roles being filled by Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has been on an upward curve under Klopp since swapping the Emirates for Anfield, particular in the second half of this season.
In addition, Milner has enjoyed a superb renaissance in central midfield, the position that the 32-year-old had always wanted to play consistently, and his performances have forced Klopp to retain Milner for perhaps longer than the German was intending.
Consequently, Lallana cannot even attempt to replace Coutinho in midfield as he needs to overhaul Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner first. Tough for a player who needs minutes to showcase his best form again, but Liverpool’s squad has never been stronger under Klopp.
Will Lallana break back into Liverpool’s first-team? When at his best, the Englishman’s quality is undeniable, and Liverpool are still operating on two fronts – chasing successive top four finishes and a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League, albeit with the sizeable challenge of overcoming Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the quarter-finals.
Liverpool will need all of their squad to have any chance of succeeding in both competitions, in particular greater creativity from midfield, where Lallana should come in.
Klopp will want to be delicate with one of his favourite players, but equally will be aware of his quality if he can provide Lallana with more minutes in the Premier League. Whether that is worth the risk of throwing him back into the fold, as the season enters its pivotal period, after the international break remains to be seen.
If Lallana is fit, he will almost certainly make England’s 23-man World Cup squad this summer, and will be fresh for Gareth Southgate’s side. Yet Lallana’s chances of starting for England in Russia seem remote, with the likes of Dele Alli ahead of England’s former creative outlet.
Should he fail to make an impact with Liverpool and England in the upcoming months, will Lallana consider a move away from Anfield in the summer? Whilst Lallana still has plenty of time left in his career – he turns 30 in May – his peak years are now limited.
If Liverpool continue to strengthen in midfield ahead of next season, Lallana’s chances of resurrecting a first-team spot will be slimmer than ever. Moreover, even with his age and salary, plenty of Premier League clubs would happily take him from Merseyside.
However, Lallana still has more to give under Klopp, and there have been no signs yet that the midfielder is thinking of a future away from Liverpool.
Lallana has unfinished business at Anfield. Still awaiting his first trophy since joining from Southampton in 2014, Lallana will want to prove that he deserves to play alongside the likes of Salah and in a team that challenges for the Premier League title – a target which the Reds should be achieving next season.
In 2019, senior figures such as Lallana and Milner could see their time at Anfield come to end, as Liverpool continue to target and develop younger talent, with names including Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic mentioned for future transfers. However, Liverpool have different priorities for this summer, and none are likely to involve Lallana leaving Anfield.