Liverpool are heading into what could be the most important season in years for the club. With Jürgen Klopp leading the Reds into the Champions League for the first time since 2014, the emphasis in the transfer market has been placed on quality over quantity.
As much as this phrase has been bandied about a lot over the last few weeks, the ramifications of a change of approach in the transfer market could not be overstated.
The last time Liverpool prepared for a season among Europe’s finest, Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert were recruited up front while this time round, Mohamed Salah has been secured in a marquee deal from AS Roma for £36.9 million.
By buying one borderline world class attacker instead of trying to shove two below par strikers into a gaping hole left behind by Luis Suarez, Liverpool have illustrated their intention to re-join Europe’s elite.
By signing Salah from Roma, one of their best players, with the Italians having confirmed their status in the Champions League for next season while not already doing so themselves, Liverpool have shown their strength in the transfer market.
A deal for Naby Keita is also looking increasingly likely with reports in recent days indicating that RB Leipzig’s hierarchy are open to selling a player who clearly has his mind on a move to Merseyside.
The potential arrival of Keita will present a serious selection headache that Jürgen Klopp will no doubt welcome but will still have to work through all the same.
With captain Jordan Henderson returning to fitness, Emre Can’s rise to prominence and the potential arrival of Leipzig’s midfield dynamo, it remains to be seen where that will leave Adam Lallana next season.
There’s no doubting that Lallana was one of Liverpool’s outstanding performers last season as the Reds topped the league by November. The former Southampton skipper scored seven and assisted seven before the turn of the year but injuries hampered his progress and he only scored and assisted one more for the rest of the season.
While Liverpool’s no.20 was instrumental in the opening stages of the season for Liverpool, his output dipped in 2017 and he simply failed to replicate the form which helped propel the Reds to a position where a title challenge was possible.
Yet, despite Lallana’s silky brilliance and undeniable impact on the way Liverpool play, it’s difficult to see the Englishman being as regular a starter for Klopp as he was last season.
As much as the nature of Liverpool’s pressing system relies on the energy and never say die attitude of Lallana, if Keita arrives this summer and Philippe Coutinho is deployed as a no.8 alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield, I find it hard to believe that Klopp will drop either of Coutinho or Keita, who will likely cost north of £60m, for Lallana.
Klopp has formed a close relationship with Lallana but the German has been known to ensure that sentimentality doesn’t affect his decisions.
Although having Lallana on the pitch as often as possible was crucial to success last season, things are different heading into the 2016/17 season. With European football on the agenda and a heightened desire to bring some silverware back to Merseyside, having Lallana as a senior option on the bench is hardly the worst thing in the world.
Last season, whenever Klopp ran into a Swansea or Burnley shaped brick wall, the German gaffer only had the likes of Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno to turn to as his substitutes.
While it won’t always be the case, having Lallana as an option off the bench will allow Liverpool to have more creativity and endurance off the bench heading into the final 20 minutes of a game.
Although Lallana might miss out to the likes of Keita and Emre Can in the long run, both are unlikely to be in perfect condition to start the 2017/18 season for Liverpool and the Englishman could stake his claim early on.
Keita, while being a top midfielder and likely to come in with a monumental price tag, will not yet be up to speed with what Liverpool expect fitness-wise and tactically given that a deal for the Guinean could be agreed anywhere between now and the end of August.
Similarly, Emre Can has not yet returned from his summer break after winning the Confederations Cup with Germany in Russia. As was the case the season when he returned late after a summer at the Euros in France, Can will need time to restore his fitness and get back to where he was when he left Liverpool in May.
Lallana will therefore be presented with an opportunity to cement his place in the Liverpool starting lineup and prove to Klopp that he is still the man for him despite big money signings and Can’s impressive showings late last season.
The Englishman has a lot to prove this pre-season as competition hots up at Liverpool but with plenty of football to go around, Lallana will definitely still get enough football. The increase in competition for places in the squad could be the difference between a top four finish for Liverpool and a challenge for league title, although that could still be too soon for this Liverpool side.