Friday, February 3, 2023

Lallana’s Evolution: How Klopp Evolved Liverpool’s Magikarp Into A Gyarados

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Jon Depp (JD)
Eccentric writer, effervescent blagger. What he lacks in cheekbones, he makes up by being cheeky. The footballing Jack Sparrow pompously navigating the high-waves of journalism. 2015 International Football Blogging Award Finalist, the pin-up boy of The 4th Official.

Beneath this scalp of mine, is a treasure trove of childhood memories to dig into. Swing it open, and glorious, glorious memories of reckless abandon are before you. We’d all like to don our imaginary swimsuits like Unca’ Scrooge from Duck Tales and dive into them from time to time.

We’d all like to, love to, but things imperceptibly change. Sometimes for the better. It was one of those memories where I remember playing some edition of Football Manager in between the determined Gotta’ Catch ’em All obsessive spells of Pokemon Emerald. Liverpool was my club, and from what I recollect, I used to send Eduardo Macia [ex-Liverpool chief scout] out to scour the lands. There was one name that inadvertently used to pop-up when he finished off his assignment, and I’d advertently reject his recommendation because he was an Englishman, and his name wasn’t exotic enough, like a Renato Augusto. Honestly, despite your national affiliations, a chap named Renato Augusto from a Brazilian club named ‘Flamengo’ is as desirable as it gets. The name of Adam Lallana didn’t as much register on my shortlist.

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Whilst playing Pokemon Emerald, I used to put my Magikarp at the head of the queue, for Experience Points to level it up, as I battled other Pokemon, trainers and gym leaders on my Nintendo. It used to be frustrating, as you see, Magikarp, a hopelessly-hapless fish Pokemon, knows only a few moves, and one is more infuriating than the other. Flail, struggle, splash and trash were its calling cards, and was quite literally, a reimagined flopping catfish [Japanese Koi, to be more precise] out of water. But I used to persist, knowing full well that once it evolves, it’ll be a Gyarados, a dragon Pokemon, with attack stats capable of levelling Pokemon cities. It was joyous when it finally evolved. Looking back at Chelsea, the past week, and Hull City this weekend, I think Juergen Klopp feels the same way about the once-unfancied Adam Lallana.

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Ridiculed for being a dog-chasing-tail sort of player, with as much [end-product] effectiveness as Water Pokemon have against Grass-type, the Nivea brand ambassador for Liverpool FC, had the upper body strength of a flea-market mannequin, with dribbling as ponderous as Spinoza’s ponderings on Descartes, or a Scooby Doo plot line.

Now, fast-forward a few months, that mannequin is a model for Liverpool’s geggenpressing template, and is simply un-benchable. Juergen’s persistence paid off. All the Magikarp candies/EXP points has added up in the end. The right-winger in Liverpool’s attacking 4-3-3, has been converted into a central midfielder. His transformation since, is one of the most enterprising expeditions and an understated conquest of coaching in the throw-the-money-at-the-problem world of modern football. 

The first name in Juergen Klopp’s teamsheet, the 25 million pound man is making the tag seem unreasonable as he did, as he first joined the club, but, in a way that hyperbolic [read: understandably excited] Liverpool fans on social media are declaring that the club might have underpaid for his services. Watching Adam Lallana play is the equivalent of seeing Juergen Klopp’s vision of a socialist footballing democracy on the pitch: constantly enabling, facilitating his team-mates, running oneself to the ground for the single-minded pursuit of the common good. He’s been the head of the Liverpool battering ram. Das Auto, almost an ideal automaton from the dreams of Isaac Asimov. Liverpool’s famous chant, which goes by the lines of, ‘poetry in motion‘, the one they sing when their team is playing with the florid rhythm of P.B. Shelley or The Beatles, seems unfit in the face of their piston-like play, where ‘machinations in motion’ would be a better fit. The bionic man from St. Albans, with steampunk for a heart, is the engine of Juergen’s juggernaut.

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2015/16:

30 games, 4 goals, 6 assists

2016/17:

6 games, 3 goals, 3 assists

3 goals and 3 assists already this season, have seen Adam Lallana chalk up an average of 82 minutes, where he plays a direct part in Liverpool’s chances of registering a goal. His ball retention too has spiked through the roof, having played 50 passes vs Hull with a pass success rate of 94 % in the role of a midfield shuttler, which by any standards is bordering on metamorphosis consider his performances last season.

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The yellow passes indicate assists, the red one the ones that were inaccurate ones. Out of 50 total passes, Lallana just misplaced 3. [Graphic courtesy Statszone]

The graphic above highlights the sheer improvement the England international has gone through, from his insular role on the wings, where he played with blinders on most of the time, trying to force his way into the box, and ultimately doing nothing but halting Liverpool’s forward momentum. There were also times his linear thought process, coupled with a single-minded obstinacy to score, saw him completely ignore the options around him – Nathaniel Clyne in particular, who darted some 60 yards to get to the byline to afford him and option, only to retreat in a heavy-legged huff, as Lallana lost possession again.

This season, however, having garnered all the EXP points from all his misdoings, Adam Lallana finds himself on the cusp of becoming something truly rare, something universally feared in football – a rich man’s Dirk Kuyt, a rebel with a cause, a YouTube footballer with an end product. Next time I play Football Manager, not if, but when – if I come across another unfancied English sounding jinker, I’m signing him, just to be sure.

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