Adam Lallana is hailed as England’s best player after his latest exploits for Liverpool, while Jose Mourinho’s latest defence of Marcos Rojo and the reinvention of Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea are also discussed.
Adam Lallana: England’s most improved and best player?
There’s been plenty written about Philippe Coutinho and how his injury would prove critical for Liverpool’s title aspirations. But in all the hype about the Brazilian and his absence, it was easy to overlook just how important Adam Lallana has become to Jurgen Klopp.
While Coutinho, quite rightly, takes the plaudits and gives Liverpool that element of surprise, Lallana’s form for the Reds this season has been nothing short of brilliant.
The England man admitted found life hard under Klopp when the German was first appointed in October 2015; his high-pressing game seemingly not suited to Lallana’s style, nor, to be brutally honest, his fitness levels.
The player admitted he had to adapt his game to fit in under Klopp, but fast forward 14 months and Liverpool are now witnessing the arrival of not only their most-improved player under the German, but also arguably the Premier League’s best Englishman this season.
Klopp, speaking back in April, admitted the form of Lallana had come as a ‘pleasant surprise’ to him when he beamed:
“Has he been the most pleasant surprise? Yes, for sure. I always knew how strong he is. I knew more about him when he played for Southampton, he wrote a very nice story there. And I’m really happy a few more people recognise what a player there is.”
10 – Adam Lallana has had a hand in 10 goals in 14 PL apps this season (5 goals, 5 assists), the same number as in 2015-16 (30 apps). Form.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 14, 2016
Since then, Lallana has gone from strength to strength; his stats this season underlining exactly how important he is to the Reds.
- In 12 starts for Liverpool this season, the player has scored six times and assisted six more
- His pass success rate is 85.9%
- An average rating of 7.32 (according to Whoscored’s stats)
- An average of 1.2 key passes per game
- An average of 1.7 shots per game
Coutinho’s absence has hurt Liverpool for sure. But Lallana – now 28 and probably at his peak – is proving almost as irreplaceable for Jurgen Klopp’s team.
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Fabregas not done at Chelsea yet
You have to admire Cesc Fabregas’ resolve and determination not to be forced out at Chelsea.
It looked as though the writing was on the wall for the Spaniard earlier this season when he struggled for game time under Antonio Conte and it seemed difficult to see where he’d fit in under the Italian’s system.
However, the player has refused to get too disheartened or distracted – an easy thing to do given his lack of playing time and constant links with a move to Serie A – and has stayed completely focused and professional throughout his exile.
Having come in from the cold in the recent win at Manchester City, Fabregas could have been forgiven for sulking when he dropped back to the bench for Sunday’s win over West Brom. However, the player showed himself ever ready once again by putting in his best shift under Conte – and scoring the winner – during the midweek success at Sunderland.
The player even had this message for the doubters after the match.
With Oscar looking increasingly like the man to make way in Chelsea’s midfield, it seems Fabregas’ obituary at Stamford Bridge should not be written just yet.
Is Mourinho right or wrong to protect Rojo?
I’m all for football managers defending their players. As their bosses, it’s exactly what they should be doing. But when Jose Mourinho refused to condemn Marcos Rojo for another two-footed lunge on Wednesday night, you do wonder if the Manchester United boss has got the situation all wrong?
Speaking after the game, Mourinho said: “He’s playing really well, phenomenal.
“He’s a clean player, aggressive. His nature, Argentinian, is emotional but very clean.
“I didn’t comment on David Luiz on Marouane Fellaini, or Danny Rose on Henrikh Mkitaryian. I’m not going to comment on this one.”
It’s a difficult one to judge. While Mourinho doesn’t want to highlight the player’s tackle and bring possible retrospective action on him – or even make him a marked man for opponents or referees in the future – he would get far from credit by admitting that perhaps the player had gone over the top.
That said, a little word in Rojo’s ears over the coming days would be sensible, because make no mistake, Rojo won’t get away with it for a third time.
Gunners misfire again
Arsenal fans can be forgiven for feeling a little bit frustrated as their side surrendered a 1-0 lead at Goodison Park, losing 2-1 to Everton.
As Ashley Williams powered home a late winner, there will have been the familiar sinking feeling among the red side of North London as another opportunity to make a serious statement slipped the grasp.
Frankly, there is no excuse this year for Arsene. Teams around them are stuttering, with the exception of Chelsea, and it presented an opportunity for them to build momentum heading to Goodison.
In truth, Arsenal perhaps did not get enough out of their spell on top of the game, and they were made to pay the price again. One TEAMtalk reader put it well: “This has been one of my biggest problems with Arsenal and Wenger for probably 10 years now, he and the team are not ruthless enough.”
That is the Gunners’ achilles heel. It’s all well and good putting five past West Ham, but looking at games like Middlesbrough, Spurs and Leicester, there is reason to believe that Arsenal just aren’t consistent enough.
As if last season wasn’t bad enough as they failed to push Leicester close, the thought of letting teams that have employed a totally new style over the summer (such as Mourinho at United, Guardiola at City and Conte at Chelsea) pip them to the post again must fill Arsenal hearts with dread. More information here.
The fact is, it feels like Wenger has been building his ‘project’ for a long time now, and how long until his time runs out? Arsenal, given their stability and the squad that they have, should challenge for the title.
Results like last night suggest that once again they might not be up to it…
Koeman has ‘nothing to prove’ to Everton
When Everton came calling for Ronald Koeman in the summer, it was no surprise to see the then Southampton manager leap at the chance to take over at Goodison Park.
Everton is, without question, one of the top jobs in English football. It’s a proud, traditional powerhouse of our game, and one that has managed to retain the glint of their old prestige despite a lack of trophies in the Premier League era.
The fact they were able to go to a Premier League rival up the table and take their manager is testament to that. However, while Everton have nothing to prove to Koeman, Koeman certainly has it all to prove to them.
Despite his success at Southampton, it must be remembered that he took over a stable club and well-coached squad. Everton need only look at their first season under Roberto Martinez and subsequent decline to recognise the advantages that provides a new manager.
Everton, a club with fresh investment and direction at boardroom level and a squad in need of restructuring, is a very different challenge, and one Koeman has not proven he is up to tackling.
Going into Tuesday’s clash with Arsenal, there had been plenty written about Koeman in the press, with some well-respected journalists questioning whether the Dutchman had been ‘found out’.
We won’t name names, but there is a growing tendency in this country to seek out the weakness in people and try to exploit that. But actually, Koeman should actually be applauded. The squad he inherited from Martinez has very obvious flaws and it’ll likely take several transfer windows to transfer Everton into major players once again. Step by step is a phrase often used. In the case of Everton, it very definitely applies.
While there are claims that the Dutchman is struggling to inspire confidence right now, Tuesday’s win over Arsenal suggests he shouldn’t be written off quite yet. He clearly knows how to get one over Arsene Wenger and tactically, he’s as good as any manager out there.
And those quick to write off Koeman ought to take a look at the Premier League table: the Toffees are in a respectable eighth right now and could yet have an outside chance of making the Europa League places. Either way, now is not the time to write him off….