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Sometimes a player’s importance to a club can be made clearer if we go beyond the numbers.
Adam Lallana made his 100th appearance for Liverpool in Saturday evening’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion and the 15 goals and 13 assists he has in that time, since moving to Merseyside in 2014, doesn’t paint a particularly good record.
Lallana’s performance against West Brom was a fitting way to see in his century.
The 28 year old wasn’t involved in either of the goals but received a standing ovation when substituted on 78 minutes following an industrious display which was typically full of running and tidy play.
Slow to settle at Anfield after being signed by Brendan Rodgers two years ago, Lallana has become one of the most improved members of the squad under Jurgen Klopp.
Fleet-footed, intelligent and, most importantly to Klopp, willing to put in the tireless running in attacking areas, it is clear why Lallana is now integral to the German’s plans, he has featured in all 9 league games so far, starting 8, and how much the Reds miss him when he is absent.
Absent Lallana was for the game with Manchester United on Monday, watching on from the bench as free-scoring Liverpool were stopped in their tracks by Jose Mourinho’s well drilled unit.
His replacement Daniel Sturridge was the focal point in attack but his over-willingness to get involved and his habit of making the wrong runs distorted the fluent swagger Anfield were becoming used to when Lallana was in the company of Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho and Sadio Mane.
That quadrant was on the field for the 5-1 demolition of Hull City while Sturridge was in for Coutinho in the 4-1 thrashing of last season’s champions Leicester City in early September.
Sturridge’s loss of form has been curious but there has always been a suspicion that the striker, given his vocal desire to play centrally instead of out wide and his oft-frustrating refusal to lay-off the ball, is out of sync with Klopp’s emphasis on cogent, fast-paced team play.
Against West Brom, admittedly presented with more space than United afforded them on Monday night, Coutinho and Firmino buzzed around in attack while Lallana, linking well with Coutinho on the right, found Mane who fouled West Brom’s full-back Allan Nyom as he ventured into the box.
It seemed like Nyom was targeted as the weak link by Klopp and in Nathaniel Clyne, Mane and Lallana, who decorated his game with the usual clever flicks and touches, he found enthusiastic charges ready to exploit.
The opening goal came from the type of free-flowing foray that was missing on Monday and though Lallana wasn’t involved, Coutinho, Emre Can and Roberto Firmino were, building up to a wonderful cross that Mane gleefully finished off.
Without Sturridge’s inclusion as a designated forward and with Lallana’s positional intelligence trusted to roam between the lines, there was no repeat of the congested system that forced Coutinho and Firmino to ineffectively drop deep on Monday evening.
Free-flowing thanks to Lallana
The free-movement that caused the Baggies so many problems on Saturday night was largely owing to Lallana’s return, with Liverpool looking far more like they should do with him involved.
The 28 year old linked the play effectively, completing 47 of his 55 passes, but relied largely on his movement making it easier for his team-mates to shine in better areas.
The standing ovation as he was replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum is becoming commonplace under the now extended Anfield, as Lallana was also treated to one after his impressive jaunt in the 5-1 mauling of Hull.
It was a performance that illustrated his composure between the lines as he set-up Mane for his goal and his own fine balance as he dug the ball from his right foot to find the corner of the net with his left.
That strike was a similar effort to the one he got on the opening day against Arsenal, finishing off a brilliant passing move to athletically squeeze home at the back post with his right, showing his ability with both feet, his right also hammering home the fourth goal, with sumptuous technique, from long range against Leicester.
His 3 goals so far sets him on course to beat his previous best for a campaign at Liverpool, standing at 5, and it is interesting to see his tally of 18 shots, behind only Coutinho and Firmino in the Liverpool squad, as if Klopp has instructed his midfielder to become more direct.
“His development is not that big, since I came he’s been on a constant high level. He can take the benefit of the team’s improvement” said Klopp, who lives next to Lallana on Merseyside.
Maybe it is the sight of the unrelenting German next-door that doesn’t allow for Lallana to drop his standards, but the model of consistency has become vital for his club in ways that cannot be measured.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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