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Importance of Adam Lallana for Liverpool Becomes Evident as Return from Injury Nears

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Adam Lallana has spent most of the summer as a forgotten man, but as his return edges nearer, his importance to this Liverpool side gains clarity.

Paul Gilham

To this point in the summer, the most exciting thing Adam Lallana has done is ride in a van--possibly an SUV, maybe a luxury towncar--with Mario Balotelli and Jon Flanagan to Monday night's 3-1 Liverpool loss at Manchester City. Conversation likely drifted between Flanagan's tales of sweaty Brazilian evenings spent sipping cocktails poolside with Cafu, whatever Balotelli did on the quietest of nights this week that barely breaks a sweat in trumping Flanagan's exploits in Rio, and Lallana's dissection of his favorite W. Somerset Maugham short story, The Human Element.

Editorial privilege aside, what's true is that Adam Lallana has spent most of the summer as a background character aside from his pre-World Cup promise for England and the day he was unveiled as a Liverpool player. Even on those occasions things didn't work out quite as planned--he was pushed out of a starting spot for England to accommodate Danny Welbeck and/or Wayne Rooney, left to make substitute appearances in their two losses and a start in their meaningless, drab finale against Costa Rica. After returning home early, as all England internationals are accustomed to doing during the summer of a major international tournament, he sealed his long-rumored move to Liverpool, but questions about his price tag and the announcement of Emre Can two days later conspired to leave him as an afterthought.

It certainly didn't help that he was injured days before his expected debut on Liverpool's US tour, or that the narrative around his signing hinged on a guy in his late twenties named Adam who uses both his feet. Rickie Lambert ate nothing but beets for 15 years as he fought his way back to Liverpool, Lazar Markovic is the flashy youngster with world-class potential, Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo are the future Spanish international fullbacks, Can is suffocatingly handsome and not too bad at the football either, Dejan Lovren the Jamie Carragher incumbent (at least with the shouting), and Balotelli...just Balotelli.

Then there's Adam, who carries with him none of the romance or narrative or fireworks but could very well prove the most influential of Liverpool's summer signings. Lovren has been anointed the defensive leader and Balotelli the wildcard in attack, but it's Lallana whose skillset appears most in-demand for a Liverpool attacking contingent that's struggled to find their footing with any sort of consistency through their first two matches.

Philippe Coutinho's preseason form has failed to carry over thus far, with varied assignments leading to faded influence and fewer moments of magic. Daniel Sturridge has found himself alienated at times, with little direct link between midfield and attack, and while Raheem Sterling continues to shine, there's been a distinct lack of cohesion going forward. Southampton and Manchester City closed down well between the lines, and Liverpool struggled to operate in the space they were afforded.

And if you've been paying attention, that's exactly what Adam Lallana excels at, and exactly what he'll be asked to do once he's fit. He'll eat up ground and do the work needed without the ball, but where he'll prove most useful is with the ball at his feet with Liverpool pressing forward; regardless of how much space is available, Lallana's able to operate, aided by excellent technique and vision to match, and he'll be crucial in helping to break down defenses that might otherwise rebuff more straightforward attacks.

Liverpool have made flashier signings this summer, no doubt. But as his return from injury draws closer, the importance of Adam Lallana becomes clearer, and the sooner he's up to speed the better.