Liverpool’s 2016-17 season is different to 2015-16 in many ways. The number of games they have won in the first eleven game weeks, their winning streak, great performances against top as well as bottom teams and the list goes on. One small detail that is also different this season is that Liverpool in this season seem to head into international breaks on a high, while last season and especially the one before that, it seemed that Liverpool were destined to enter the international break on a sad, defeated note.
So while Reds’ pre-international-break games are ending differently, the breaks themselves are very similar. Liverpool fans still fervently hope that their players come back to Anfield safe and sound. This time to keep winning and to stretch their stay at the top, while it was a case of continuing the climb up the table in the previous two seasons.
In the international break that has just wrapped up, Liverpool fans would have hoped that all their players come back fit to play the crucial next match at St. Mary’s. The good news is that almost all of the first team players came back fit, although the Brazilians Firmino and Coutinho must be terribly jet lagged. But the bad news is that one of their vital cogs has suffered an injury and it is most likely that he will not play against Southampton.
Adam Lallana has featured in all of Liverpool’s eleven league games this season so far. He has started ten times out of those and has been subbed on once. He has been involved in eight of Liverpool’s 30 goals having scored three and assisted five. It is fair to say that Lallana has been in great form this season and now he is most likely going to be absent from the team lineup at St. Mary’s. He will most likely be replaced with Georginio Wijnaldum, who himself missed out on starting the last few games as he got injured in the October international break and Emre Can stepped up. Now will Wijnaldum will have to try hard to become indispensable on the team sheet.
Lallana’s absence can potentially hurt Liverpool in three areas and could possibly benefit them in one particular area.
Lallana has been a goal threat all through the first eleven games, shooting 2.2 times per 90 minutes. Wijnaldum is not far behind at 1.8, although he is more accurate. But despite being inaccurate, Lallana is more likely to score a goal in 90 minutes (0.4) than Wijnaldum, possibly because he shoots more from inside the box than from outside.
Wijnaldum has been pretty close in most attacking areas but needs to convert his higher accuracy of shots in to goals. Not easy but definitely possible.
Wijnaldum provides half a shot assist more than Lallana (2 vs. 1.5) per 90 minutes. But he seems to be assisting the more difficult shots, as Lallana is able to provide more goal assists (0.6), while Wijnaldum himself is able to provide half of that. This could be because Lallana puts more passes into the penalty area (4.3) and more successful crosses (0.5) than Wijanldum (1.1 and 0 respectively). Lallana is a bit more active in the final third having more pass attempts and more successful passes in the opponent’s third.
Lallana’s assist potential is what makes him quite invaluable to Liverpool and Wijnaldum has to improve a bit to reach that level. Wijnaldum is good attacking midfielder and that’s why Liverpool acquired him from Newcastle. It is completely possible that he will manage to bridge the gap between his service level and Lallana’s over the next few opportunities he gets.
On the involvement front as well, Lallana is a bit better than Wijnaldum. The Englishman has more touches, more dribbles, and is a part of way more duels. The Dutchman is better in passing numbers. Wijnaldum attempts more open play passes and has a better passing accuracy.
However, in terms of defensive contribution, Lallana is at a much higher level than Wijnaldum. He puts in more tackles and comes out successful more often. He also puts in more interceptions and is even intercepting passes into the Reds’ penalty area. This is definitely an area where Wijnaldum has catching up to do, but against a injury-ridden Southampton side, Lallana’s tackling and intercepting might not be missed as much.
The Lone Positive
Lallana will be missed a bit, especially if Wijnaldum’s service levels do not improve at St. Mary’s but all is not bad for Liverpool. I had a feeling that Lallana is generally subdued at St. Mary’s, possibly due to the fans hounding him or due to the emotions of playing at a ground and against a team where he was the captain. But whatever the reason, Lallana’s performance drops at St. Mary’s. In the fixture earlier this year, Lallana’s WhoScored rating was 5.7, while his season score was 7.08. In the 2014-15 season, Liverpool won at St. Mary’s through goals from Coutinho and Sterling, but Lallana’s rating was 6.6, again lower than his season average of 6.9.
So, if Liverpool were playing any other team, Lallana would have been missed quite a bit. But at Southampton, it might just be a slightly good thing that he will be absent. He will not have his customary bad performance and Wijnaldum will get an opportunity to show his talent. I, for one, really hope that he does.