Red Star vs Liverpool: Adam Lallana can capitalise on Xherdan Shaqiri's absence

Lallana has spent a difficult 18 months on the fringes at Anfield but deserves an opportunity to revive his Reds career

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Monday 05 November 2018 23:26
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When Mohamed Salah departed the 2018 Champions League final with a dislocated after just half an hour, Jürgen Klopp was forced to turn to his substitutes’ bench and somehow come close to filling the void left by the Egyptian. It was, in truth, an impossible task.

In the end, Klopp turned to a player who was lacking match practice, who had completed one set of 90 minutes all season, but who he knew could excel as part of his front three, as he had done regularly a year earlier.

For all that says about the lack of depth at Klopp’s disposal last term, it also speaks to the faith Adam Lallana still commands among those that matter at Anfield. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, he was out of rhythm, off the pace and could not make up for the loss of Salah against Real Madrid.

Kiev was one of Lallana’s most forgettable nights in a Liverpool shirt. And while the memories of the run to the final will live long with many of the club’s supporters, it had been a year when many began to forget about Lallana too.

Not long before that, he had been of considerable importance to this team. In Klopp’s opening game in charge, a goalless draw at Tottenham Hotspur, Lallana practically collapsed into one of his manager’s bear hugs, so spent was he from carrying out this intense style of pressing for the first time.

The image became symbolic of the new order at Anfield. Here was one of the more indulgent signings of the Brendan Rodgers era, bought without much of defined role in mind, only now here was evidence of direction and purpose.

Lallana duly became one of the best at carrying out Klopp’s particular style. The following campaign was the best of his Anfield career, operating either as a central midfielder with license to burst or in a fluid front three alongside two of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.

Red Star Belgrade vs Liverpool

Key information

Kick-off: 5.55pm GMT

TV: BT Sport 3

A new three-year contract came that February, for a player closing in on his 29th birthday. It was a deal that Liverpool might not usually strike for a maturing player but Lallana’s performances had earned rewards.

When news of Lallana’s thigh injury broke before the start of the next season, his absence for at least three months or more was seen as a significant blow to Liverpool’s hopes of navigating a difficult opening run of fixtures. It was supposedly a dent to their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

Yet just over a year later, Liverpool are once again competing in the Champions League, with new depth in key positions. Lallana has not only suffered the thigh problem but hamstring trouble too and the fact that he has made just four appearances this season is little more than a footnote.

Lallana was a key figure in Klopp's first two seasons

It should encourage Lallana that three of those outings came in Liverpool’s four games. The opportunities are unlikely to come as consistently, though, once Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita fully recover from their respective injuries.

At least, as Liverpool prepare to meet Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday night, Lallana is present. Xherdan Shaqiri, the summer signing from Stoke City and Lallana’s chief competition for minutes this season, has been curiously left back on Merseyside for what can only be described as political reasons.

Klopp was as reluctant to speak about Shaqiri’s absence in Belgrade on Monday night and just as reticent when the subject of his line-up was brought up. Was this now an opportunity for Lallana?

“All the games are opportunities,” he said. “Whatever I could say about that would lead you in a direction. I don’t want to give the line-up away.”

Yet given Shaqiri’s situation, the fitness concerns around others and the temptation to rest regulars against Group C’s bottom seeds, it would be a surprise if Lallana were not handed another chance at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Some will wonder whether, at 30-years-old and after spending so long sidelined, he can still be the same player of 18 months ago. Fairly so. Yet the last time he made two consecutive 90-minute Liverpool appearances, it was early 2017 and he was an undisputed first-team player.

How does Red Star on Tuesday followed by Fulham on Saturday sound? This week could be Lallana’s chance to come in from the cold.

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