01 July 2014

On Adam Lallana

Adam Lallana is now Liverpool's third summer signing, joining his former Southampton teammate Rickie Lambert and Emre Can.

Brendan Rodgers' quotes make clear how much he wanted Lallana at Liverpool. This seems very much a Rodgers signing rather than transfer committee signing. Lallana looks an excellent fit for Rodgers' style: the focal point, fulcrum, and captain of a similar system at Southampton. He's joining players he knows well: yes, primarily Rickie Lambert, but also his England teammates Gerrard, Sturridge, Henderson, Sterling, and Johnson.

He's versatile, primarily a central attacking midfielder but also able to play on either flank, and possibly deeper in midfield against weaker sides. He's two-footed, scoring four left-footed and four right-footed goals last season (as well as one that he scrambled in with a knee on a set play). Like Coutinho (and Allen…), you could see him play as the shuttler opposite Henderson in a 4-4-2 diamond. Or at the apex. Or in any of the positions in the line of three in a 4-2-3-1. Or as either wide forward in the 4-3-3.

From WhoScored:

Some of the differentiation between positions is semantics, but WhoScored has him lining up in seven positions last season, every possible attacking position except out-and-out striker and right-sided midfielder.

And that versatility is a good thing, because Liverpool already have two similar players.

Absolutely all credit for this image idea goes to Ted Knutson of StatsBomb. Rather than bug Ted to do a comparison, I thought I'd try to make my own, with no offense meant to the originator. Ted's innovation with these radars has been superlative, and pretty much everything on StatsBomb is outstanding and I cannot recommend it enough. There are only a few categories different from the style he uses, which I thought worth highlighting.

Coutinho's a more ambitious passer, with lower accuracy but more assists, key passes, and throughballs, and is better defensively (although all three are above average). Sterling's a better shooter, scorer, and dribbler. Lallana is more of an all-rounder – good at most things, only worrisome in how often he's dispossessed and the paucity of throughballs – and is a much more accurate passer, especially in the final third. And he's reliable, appearing in all 38 matches last season, playing more than 1000 minutes more than Coutinho or Sterling last season: the former missing a handful of matches through injury, the latter still growing as a player.

Lallana is first in just two of the above categories, the two pass accuracy categories, but is second in seven of the 14. A jack of many trades, a master of few. Which is as much a compliment as an insult, if not more so. Liverpool need that sort of versatility and reliably, Liverpool need that strength in depth.

That said, Raheem Sterling is 19. Coutinho just turned 22. Adam Lallana is 26.

Lallana is the third oldest player signed by Brendan Rodgers, behind only Kolo Toure (free) and Rickie Lambert (£4m). The average age of Liverpool's 14 previous signings under Rodgers is 23.5 years old. He's a player in his prime, experienced but not old, which is something Liverpool need, but there's also not much more room for improvement.

Sterling, as a 16-year old, cost £500,000, which has probably risen to somewhere between £2-5m based on incentives. Coutinho cost £8.5m. Lallana's fee is somewhere between £23-25m. And that's a lot of money, even considering inflation thanks to the new television deal, even considering the English premium. Like, a lot of money. Only Andy Carroll cost Liverpool more (*sets self on fire*).

So there's encouraging and there's concerning.

Is he an improvement on Liverpool's attacking depth? Without a doubt. But when you're relying on Victor Moses, Iago Aspas, or Luis Alberto, that's an admittedly low bar to hurdle.

I'm not convinced he's a guaranteed starter if everyone's available, no matter his fee, especially considering how outstanding Liverpool's attack looked over the last half of the season. At that price, should he be? Probably. But if anyone's absent – and there will be one important player absent until November – Lallana can slot in almost seamlessly, no matter the absentee. That's incredibly valuable in and of itself.

Of course there are worries about the cost. But this was obviously a player than manager and club had targeted. Prior to this summer, Rodgers' Liverpool had bought six players for more than £8.5m. The jury's still out on Borini (worst case scenario: Liverpool get most if not all of the money back if he's sold), but Allen, Sturridge, Coutinho, Mignolet, and Sakho's success mean that the club has a lot more leeway with me than it used to when it comes to transfers.


Parker Crowe said...

High fee, but I'm happy. It takes 1.5-2 separate 1st teams to contend in champions league and domestically. Premier League proven, dangerous in attack, presses and tracks back on defense, and an experienced leader. Like you say, can fill in as a shuttler. Will be great competition/reinforcement for henderson.

Calvin Valance said...

Lallana seems to perform well in the categories with higher reliability (goals and assists can be easily influenced by one or two either way, unlike passes)