Since arriving at Liverpool back in 2015, Jürgen Klopp and his trusted team of transfer thaumaturges have had a clear plan in place, largely reflected in the sorts of players the club have brought in. The high defensive line requires exceptionally fast centre-backs; pacy wide attackers are necessary for the transition game, big-capacity two-way players are preferred in central midfield in order to sustain 5.000 minutes of high-intensity pressing every year.
One of the less clearly defined positions, however, has been the deepest of the three central midfield spots. The ability to spread the ball around the pitch, either two switch play or spring counters has been an ever-present demand, but Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Georginio Wijnaldum — Klopp’s most consistent performers in the role — are without a doubt, very different types of footballers.
In pre-season this summer, we saw a fourth option emerge. Not many took the flashes of Adam Lallana deployed deep in central midfield particularly seriously, presuming it a consequence of a thin summer squad more than anything else, but now, as the international break nears its end and Saturday’s clash with Steve Bruce’s Newcastle side is right around the corner, Lallana can reveal that the summer experiment may have been a preamble for something entirely genuine.
“I’m still waiting to get a chance there. That may, or may not, come, but it definitely interests me,” the 31-year old explained to The Times.
“I find it very stimulating because I get more of the ball than I have ever had in my career before. Sometimes as a No.8 you are making decoy runs, or you are offering and you don’t get the ball.
“Whereas if you are in the ‘six’ you are centralised to the play, involved in the build-up a lot more. That is what I noticed straight away. That’s where the stimulation comes from — it feels good to be on the ball.
“I have not gone into it too deeply,” he continued. “Jordan [Henderson] told me I need to watch [Barcelona’s] Frenkie de Jong. The way he plays it, he kind of dribbles a little bit more than other sixes would, which obviously brings a bit of risk but that is in my game.
“I do watch the six more so now than what the eight does because I know that reasonably well. What are their movements like? I’ve found myself focusing on Fabinho a little bit in our first games and he has played it outstandingly well.”
While there is certainly no hard ceiling on when a player can add skills to their game, and while Adam Lallana is a genuinely talented footballer, expecting a 31-year old to transition into perhaps the most tactically demanding position on the pitch, one for which — in Klopp’s system — he lacks at least two decisive qualities, namely physicality and passing range, and to do so in a year where the margin for error is so narrow, dropped points will likely be counted on three hands, seems, to put it gently, optimistic.
It is difficult, nonetheless, to doubt the strategic mind of Jürgen Klopp too much, and if the gaffer thinks Lallana has what it takes to evolve into Liverpool’s very own De Jong facsimile, well I guess we’re going to find out if he’s right yet again.