Liverpool have made undoubted progress over the last few years. From a team ridiculed for their defensive mishaps, often succumbing strong leads due to individual errors and a lack of authority, to one able to ride out tight 1-0 advantages with relative comfort, Jurgen Klopp has transformed the very foundations that made a hunt for trophies look so bleak. He’s also ignited a fire within the final third, becoming one of the most enthralling sides within England’s top flight.
Perhaps the perfect embodiment of that change has been through the eyes of those left behind.
During the 2016/17 season, Adam Lallana was at the peak of his powers. One of the first names on the teamsheet, he was liked by his manager for his creative eye and tenacity to regain possession. The man to instigate the press, pushing up from midfield to force the opposition onto the backfoot via an aggressive approach, he epitomised Klopp’s gegenpressing style. Further to that, Lallana possessed the technical class and intelligence that saw him shine in a deeper role, utilising his vision without restricting the frantic transition into attack due to a lack of pace.
However, terrible luck with injuries over the last year has seen him pushed to the periphery of the team. During that time, Liverpool have made visible strides in the midfield and attacking departments; the movement and drive of Coutinho and Chamberlain in midfield provided the perfect base for Salah, Mane and Firmino as the Reds scored the most goals ever achieved in a single European campaign last year. Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson, albeit lacking in the creative department in comparison to Lallana, enabled a swift transition from defence to attack – an integral trait to Liverpool’s overall development.
All the while, the 30-year-old has been at a standstill. The 2017/18 season saw Lallana make just one start in the Premier League, twenty-six fewer than he’d managed in the previous campaign. That trend has continued in the opening twelve games of 2018/19, with the Englishman failing to start a game since January 1st, prior to Liverpool’s game against Huddersfield in October.
On the rare occasions we have seen him, he’s looked massively off the pace. Albeit expected from a player still trying to find his rhythm after a prolonged period on the sidelines, Lallana has often killed the momentum of Liverpool’s attacks by dawdling in possession and failing to produce in the way of output. Thus, while Liverpool continues to move forward, recruiting well and making strides season upon season to close the gap on Manchester City, Lallana has been left behind – a symbol of the past rather than the present.
Joel Matip is another prime example; upon his arrival at Liverpool, the Cameroonian was regarded as one of the best centre-backs at the club – a statement that probably says more about the quality of the other options at the manager’s disposal than anything, mind.
While it’s hardly his fault that he sustained an injury that arguably pushed him out of contention for a starting spot, his failure to force his way back into the picture provides an insight into the development and progress made by his teammates. The record signing of Virgil van Dijk has added a steeliness to the back-four that was previously lacking while Joe Gomez has surged to the fore this season. What’s resulted has been a stark improvement to Liverpool’s defensive structure; in the opening 12 games of last season, the team had shipped 17 goals – an average of 1.42 per game. This year that’s down to a measly five – an average of 0.42 per game. That in itself serves testament to the progression made in the last year, with a more pragmatic approach prompting Liverpool to display traits of title challengers.
Dejan Lovren is now the backup option at the heart of the defence while Matip has effectively been cast aside as another player unable to keep pace with the exciting progression of Klopp’s squad.
With FSG’s increased investment in the team working in tandem with the development of individuals and the squad as a whole, Liverpool have made incontrovertible progress over the last few years, leaving those unable to keep pace in their wake.