Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Adam Lallana impresses on first start of the season for Liverpool
Last Updated: 01/01/18 6:30pm
Adam Lallana made his first start of the season in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Burnley at Turf Moor. Here, we assess his return to the side.
Adam Lallana has been something of a forgotten figure at Liverpool this season. While Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have been busy tearing into Premier League defences, the 29-year-old has watched from the sidelines, nursing a thigh injury he picked up in the summer.
It has been a frustrating few months. Lallana aggravated the injury when he returned to the side as a late substitute against Chelsea back in November, but after further cameos against Bournemouth and Swansea either side of Christmas, he was handed his first start of the campaign as Liverpool made the trip to Burnley without Salah and Coutinho.
Most of the drama took place after his 86th-minute substitution, with Ragnar Klavan scoring a stoppage-time winner after Johann Berg Gudmundsson appeared to have snatched a draw for the hosts, but Liverpool can take plenty of encouragement from his display up until then.
Lallana looked sharp from the start. His first contribution was to slide an incisive pass through midfield to Dominic Solanke, who was well positioned to draw a foul from James Tarkowski, and he followed that up by twisting and turning on the edge of Burnley's box before firing the first shot of the afternoon over the bar.
Lallana was deployed at No 10 but it soon became clear that he had licence to roam. He could be seen producing crosses from both flanks in the opening stages, gravitating towards pockets of space between the lines and making it difficult for Burnley's central midfielders Jack Cork and Steven Defour to pick him up.
Lallana's key moments
1 – Lallana's penetrative pass releases Dominic Solanke, forcing James Tarkowski to bring him down
2 – Fires a shot over from 20 yards out after turning sharply away from his marker
3 – Picks up the ball on the right and curls an inviting cross towards Solanke but the striker can't quite reach it
13 – Lallana embarks on a driving run up the left flank, carrying the ball past several Burnley defenders
17 – Sprays an accurate cross-field pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose shot forces a save from Nick Pope
19 – Chases back to make a vital sliding tackle on Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who would have gone through on goal
47 – Gets into space on the left and picks out Oxlade-Chamberlain with an accurate cut-back
73 – Attempts his fifth shot of the afternoon but it's deflected out for a corner
86 – Applauded by the travelling fans as he makes way for James Milner
He showed his technical ability with a pinpoint cross-field pass for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 17th minute, with the former Arsenal man's stinging drive forcing a save from Nick Pope. It was one of four chances created by Lallana over the course of the game. No player on either side matched that number. He also attempted the most shots (five).
Lallana's offensive qualities are only part of what he brings to the side. Lallana is a tireless worker and his energy was impressive at Turf Moor. Indeed, for all the flashes of inspiration with the ball at his feet, his best moment of the game was in fact a last-ditch challenge to prevent Gudmundsson from racing through on goal in the 19th minute.
Lallana did appear to tire in the second half, but Klopp's decision to re-introduce him to the side gradually was vindicated in the running stats. At the time of his substitution, Lallana had covered more ground (11.9km) than any other player on the pitch. His average speed of 8.2km per hour was also quickest of any Liverpool player.
Lallana had dropped deeper as Liverpool attempted to protect their lead after Sadio Mane's opener, and they certainly seemed to miss his calming influence in midfield following his withdrawal, with Burnley's equaliser coming just two minutes after he made way for James Milner.
Klavan's late header ensured a happy ending for Liverpool, but for Lallana, this season is only just beginning. He faces a fight to nail down a starting spot at the expense of one of Klopp's 'fab four', but his return to the side at Turf Moor was a timely reminder of his qualities.
The pundit verdict
Tony Cottee: "He was the best player in the first half. I like Lallana, he makes things happen, he's always on the half-turn. He tired towards the end and was replaced by James Milner, but he played 86 minutes and I think the manager will be pleased with that. Eventually, when he's 100 per cent fit, they will have to find a place for him in that team because he's a good player."