Liverpool fans are high on optimism right now. The Reds reached the Champions League final last season, finished in the Premier League top four in consecutive years for the first time since 2009, have a world class star in Mohamed Salah supported by very good forwards and have spent increasing sums of money to significantly strengthen over the last three transfer windows.
For most at the club, things are heading in the right direction and couldn’t be better.
Alex Livesey – Danehouse/GettyImages
For Adam Lallana, the opposite is true. For all of Liverpool’s giant strides in the last 12 months, he is the one that has been left behind and whose Anfield journey may now be reaching the end of the road just as the project as a whole seems ready for lift off.
It wasn’t all that long ago when many agreed Lallana to be Liverpool’s most creative and influential attacking player. When he played well, the team played well. Equally, the team would lack something if he was wasn’t on top of his game.
Lallana started the 2016/17 season incredibly well, scoring and assisting in an opening 4-3 win over Arsenal. He then had a direct hand in four more goals in five more games before the end of September. By the end of the campaign, the former Southampton captain had delivered his most prolific season in a Liverpool shirt.
Lallana signed a new three-year contract with Liverpool during that campaign and manager Jurgen Klopp made it clear just how crucial he was: “For me it was clear we had to try everything to keep a player like him. He is a very important player for us. He is really a good guy and a perfect age to deliver and get consistency in his performances.”
But, having already brought in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in consecutive summers, more investment was needed and that is exactly what happened. Salah arrived for £35m, completing an incredibly potent front line. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then joined to add depth in midfield, before Virgil van Dijk was bought for a defender’s world record fee in January.
The spending this summer has seen Alisson Becker arrive in goal and yielded two more midfielders in Fabinho and Naby Keita who it is expected will start every game together alongside Jordan Henderson when fit, as well as overtly creative type Xherdan Shaqiri.
Liverpool might have viewed the situation differently had Lallana not been battling injuries for most of the last 16 months. The trouble began when he was forced to miss five games with a hamstring injury in April 2017, before then sitting out the first three months of 2017/18.
By the end of the calendar year, Lallana had played only 42 minutes of Premier League football. He managed 86 minutes on New Year’s Day in a win over Burnley and 70 minutes in the FA Cup victory against Everton a few days later. But the the only other game he started in the remainder of the season was the Champions League dead rubber against Porto.
More hamstring strife caused him to miss another month of action towards the business end of the season – nine key games, both domestic and European – and the fact that he played an hour of the Champions League final against Real Madrid was only because of the injury to Salah.
The arrivals of Salah, Fabinho, Keita and Shaqiri, to the point where Philippe Coutinho isn’t particularly missed, combined with his own injury problems, have ensured that even a fit Lallana no longer gets in Liverpool’s strongest side and is certainly not the ‘very important player’ that Klopp held in such high regard barely more than a year ago.
Whether it be a wide attacking berth or a deeper midfield role, the positions in which he typically plays are very well covered. Oxlade-Chamberlain is arguably in a similar boat, but one has to imagine that, upon his return to action from a knee injury, he would also be ahead of Lallana, whose slower paced technical style is less and less suited to Liverpool’s fast and furious play.
It’s a little sad to see it unfold this way, but the squad has moved on and left him behind. Football waits for no man, and in this instance that man is Adam Lallana. With two years left on his contract, could this season perhaps be his last at Liverpool?