A lot has been made in pre-season of the form of Daniel Sturridge, who has played very well and made a good impact. Once again, we’re in July and Sturridge is still, now at the age of 28, a Liverpool player, despite almost constant speculation about his future at the club for the last three years under Jürgen Klopp.
Meanwhile, Adam Lallana is looking to get a full pre-season under his belt as he looks to finally re-start his Liverpool career. Lallana is now 30 and has just two full, strong seasons for Liverpool under his belt, as he has looked to make himself a key player under Klopp. And as with Sturridge, this summer has seen a lot of Liverpool fans feeling that Lallana’s time at the club is over.
So I thought I’d take a look at these two individuals, to see if either of them could prove to be a useful, or even a vital player for Jürgen Klopp this season, assuming that Liverpool doesn’t end up signing another attacking midfielder.
The first thing to note about both players is value. The age of these players means that from here, their sales values are only going to drop and keep dropping. In Lallana’s case, in particular, this summer could be Liverpool’s last chance to get some decent money for him. As for Sturridge, after a series of injury-hit seasons, his value just keeps dropping, and Liverpool might feel the need to cut their losses.
On the other hand, however, one could argue that both players are almost worth more to the club staying than they would be leaving. Danny Ings and Simon Mignolet, to draw two comparisons, will both likely make Liverpool £20m plus, whilst neither have anything to offer the first team. On the other hand, Lallana and Sturridge will struggle to make the club that amount, with few obvious buyers, and both could, injuries allowing, offer something to the side.
So the next thing to analyse is the aforementioned injuries. Below is Si Brundish’s data on how many games our players have missed over the last three years, and as a percentage (note this data is slightly old as it was collated before the end of 17/18).
As we can see, both players have missed less than Hendo, who is our captain and still considered a very important player in the side. What is clear, however, is that both players will need managing if they are to make an impact on the side. Nevertheless, neither player is the first name on the team sheet, and as such, perhaps Klopp will find a way to balance both players – although it’s worth noting that Brundish isn’t confident with Sturridge in particular.
That said, despite being available more often, Sturridge has been used significantly less than Lallana over the last three years. Over the last three seasons, Sturridge has started just 23 games for LFC (and two for West Brom) in the Premier League, whilst Lallana has started 51. However, just one of those games was this season, having missed almost the entirety of 17/18 through injury.
So how do both players perform when they are in the side? Let’s begin with Sturridge, who has scored 13 goals and clocked three assists in his 2296 Premier League minutes since the start of 15/16. That’s a goal or assist every 143.5 minutes. In that period, Sturridge averages 0.53 xG/90 and 0.12 xA/90. However, eight of those league goals were in a hot spell during 15/16 when he made 11 starts. In the last two seasons, he’s started just 12 games in the league, and scored just five goals.
Lallana meanwhile, has contributed 12 goals and 13 assists in the league in 4698 minutes, 187.9 minutes per goal or assist, which isn’t bad for a player who has spent a lot of that period playing as a midfielder, albeit an attacking one. Whilst his xG/90 is much lower at 0.18, his xA/90 is 0.19 and he averages 1.9 key passes, which is more than good enough to contribute.
So what about how the team performs with Lallana and Sturridge in it? The answer is: okay. Liverpool have lost just three of the 23 games Sturridge has started in the last three seasons, winning ten and picking up 1.74 points per game. As for Lallana, Liverpool have won 28 of the 51 games he’s started, losing nine and picking up 1.92 points per game. Liverpool have averaged 1.85 points per game across that period, meaning that the Reds have performed better with Lallana in the team than without him over the last three years, all the more impressive when you consider how good LFC were this season without him.
Continuing with Sturridge then, since his numbers are almost all statistically insignificant. In 17/18, Sturridge started five games, with Liverpool scoring eight goals from 10.32 xG. Liverpool’s xG of 2.06 in those games was basically identical to their seasonal xG of 2.04, but they scored 2.20 goals per game across the season and only 1.6 in those five. In 16/17, the Reds looked good in Sturridge’s seven games, scoring 15 goals at 2.14 and 1.95 xG per game with Sturridge involved, compared to 2.05 goals per game and 1.75 xG per game overall in 16/17.
But it’s 15/16, where Sturridge played eleven games that we can see a statistical significance to his being in the team. Liverpool scored 24 goals from 11 games at 2.18 goals per game with him in the side, compared to 39 goals at 1.44 without him in the side. The xG was higher too, 1.55 compared to 1.38 but the Reds still only won four of those games.
The bottom line here though is that Liverpool were a totally different side the last time Sturridge got any number of minutes, and the side is far better now than then. Overall, the question of whether Sturridge still has something to contribute to this team remains unanswered, and his lack of game time over the last two years remains the overwhelming factor in any assessment of him.
With Lallana however, we can draw some meaningful conclusions from his 16/17 season. 17/18 was a write-off as mentioned, with Liverpool creating 1.63 xG and scoring twice in his only start. And in 15/16, Lallana – despite playing well overall it must be noted, with the team’s joint-highest xA/90 at 0.24 – had no statistical impact on goalscoring. The Reds scored 25 goals from 15 games without him in the side at 1.67 and 38 from 23 with him in the side at 1.65. The xG without him was 1.46 per game, with him it was 1.41.
In 16/17 however, we can say that Lallana was a key player. He scored eight goals, notching seven assists in his 27 starts. And when he started, the Reds excelled. Their xG with him in the team was 1.98 per game, compared to 1.20 without him. And in terms of goals, the Reds scored 2.33 goals per game with Lallana in the side, compared to 1.36 without him. Overall, the Reds won 17 of their 27 games with Lallana, a win ratio of 63%, and they picked up 2.11 points per game with him in the side.
Whilst that data is statistically significant, it must be offset by mentioning a few factors. The first is that, of course, Liverpool coped well without Lallana in 17/18, so again it could be argued that the team has evolved beyond him. The second is that a reasonable percentage of the games Lallana missed in 16/17 were those missed by Sadio Mané, who was Liverpool’s most important player in 16/17, as the Reds had to find different ways to win near the end of the season.
That said, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missing for the entire season, there’s definitely a need in the midfield for someone who can press like a demon. In terms of central midfield, Ox and Lallana are the two standout individuals, and whilst Fabinho and Keita can pick up the slack in terms of quality, as of yet it’s difficult to quantify whether either will be able to bring what Ox and Lallana bring in terms of pure pressing – although the early signs for Naby are positive.
Moreover, it cannot be argued that Liverpool were missing goals from midfield in 17/18. Wijnaldum, who chipped in regularly in 16/17, added just one league goal in 17/18, as did Jordan Henderson. The much-lauded Ox scored just three league goals, although he contributed seven assists, with Emre Can adding the same number and Milner not netting at all. So eight goals from Liverpool’s five central midfielders, a tally Lallana himself matched in 16/17. Whilst Liverpool’s style adapted slightly so that they were less reliant on midfield goals, with Salah and Firmino exploding in terms of goals, it remains the case that the Reds needed more in terms of end-product from deep.
So to reach the conclusion then, do I think Adam Lallana or Daniel Sturridge have a role to play in this Liverpool side in 17/18, particularly given that the attacking midfield position and the striker role are areas where the Reds lack depth?
Personally, I think the die is cast for Sturridge. Klopp has shown time and again that he doesn’t see the English forward as part of his long-term project by simply not picking him, and by loaning him out to West Brom. If Solanke sticks around – and I assume he won’t go on loan – then it’s likely he’ll be starting more games than Sturridge. And with Shaqiri in the team and Bobby likely to play as many minutes as his body will take, I think it’s unlikely he’ll feature prominently.
As for Lallana, I think that he can fill a gap in the squad, assuming that neither Fekir nor anyone else comes in. With Ox out for the season, Liverpool have six midfielders – Hendo, Gini, Milner, Keita, Fabinho and Lallana for six spots. To suggest that any one of those six isn’t going to be needed to play significant minutes is optimistic. Lallana offers something that Gini, Milner and Hendo simply don’t, a little bit of flair and creativity.
Whether or not he’ll be the same player he was in 16/17 remains to be seen, and whether or not he’s the answer – for the record I don’t think he is – will also be seen. But as far as rotation options in attacking midfield against lesser PL sides goes (or alternatively as a starting option in big games where we need a major presser), I think Lallana still has a role to play at LFC.