Thursday 26 April 2018

Adam Lallana: Heavy Stoke defeat ruined our summer break

Adam Lallana believes Liverpool have squad to reach the next level, writes Paul Wilson

Lallana: 'We want to put it right and we have the chance. Stoke will be a big test for us psychologically after what happened last season, but it could be a good test'
Lallana: 'We want to put it right and we have the chance. Stoke will be a big test for us psychologically after what happened last season, but it could be a good test'

Paul Wilson

'Typical," was Adam Lallana's reaction when the fixtures for the forthcoming Premier League season were released.

Like just about everyone else connected with Liverpool, he could have done without seeing Stoke City again so soon, though he does acknowledge that this afternoon's trip to the Britannia Stadium at least offers the possibility of atonement for the 6-1 hiding that closed last season and clouded the club's summer.

The worst result for 60 years is a lot to live down at a club like Liverpool, and after becoming the first post-Shankly manager to spend three seasons at Anfield without winning a trophy, it was the last sign-off performance Brendan Rodgers needed. The manager used the word embarrassing when apologising to the fans for the manner of the defeat, and Lallana does not pull any punches either.

"It spoiled the summer break, if I'm honest," he says. "No one likes to get beaten, especially 6-1. It was an embarrassing result for Liverpool Football Club, a team that should not be losing in that way. We all went to Dubai straight afterwards to give Steven Gerrard a send-off, and that was strange. It wasn't a normal holiday. If it had been I don't think we would have been going. We let ourselves down, there were a few words said at half-time when we were five down, but it's happened now.

"We have to get over it and move on and thankfully we have the opportunity. Freakish things do happen in football from time to time. I remember City beating United 6-1 at Old Trafford. You never want to be on the wrong end of a scoreline like that, but because it is still fresh in our minds this might just be a good fixture for us to start off with. We want to put it right and we have the chance. Stoke will be a big test for us psychologically after what happened last season, but it could be a good test - a marker for us to see how the squad has gelled together after the new additions over summer."

Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino are the foremost of those, Liverpool having spent around £60m on a new strike force after losing Raheem Sterling to Manchester City and Daniel Sturridge to a series of medical specialists. There have been other arrivals too, notably two full-backs in Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez, plus another couple of English captures in Danny Ings and James Milner. There is plenty of potential for excitement in what has been a generally encouraging summer of recruitment. Liverpool appear to have spent wisely.

The only slight concern is that last summer was supposed to be the rebuilding opportunity. After buying half a dozen players with the proceeds of the Luis Suarez sale, Lallana at £25m among them, Rodgers initially suggested there would not be much more business to conduct in the present window. His change of policy, coupled with the prices paid for the two main strikers and the promises made to Milner, means some of last summer's intake are bound to miss out.

Rickie Lambert has already left for West Brom, Mario Balotelli will doubtless be following him out of the club as soon as a willing taker can be found, but it is hard to see where Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno and Lallana are going to get regular games. Even Emre Can, one of the few unqualified successes of last season, must be wondering where he will fit in if Liverpool are reverting to a back four and having Jordan Henderson and Milner in midfield.

Milner will play most games, because that is the basis on which Liverpool lured him from City. Henderson will also be a fixture as captain. So where does that leave Can, or Jordon Ibe, touted by many as the natural replacement for Sterling? If Ibe is selected for the Stoke game it will most likely be at the expense of Lallana. One trusts the teenager will not be introduced at half-time this time with the team already five goals in arrears, then sent out at the end to discuss the result with the television cameras.

"I think we have a great squad with great options," Lallana says. "We have made some excellent additions but that's still no guarantee you are going to win your first six or seven games. Obviously, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the new lads, and the manager as well, but that's just part and parcel of day-to-day life in football. Every team wants to start off well, and when you're Liverpool you've always got a big expectation. We want to be in the top four at the end of the season, that's our goal.

"What we would like to do is go about our business as quietly as possible, and the less people talk about us the better it will be. But that's not really going to happen at a club like this. The industry is about people talking and putting pressure on you. Our job is to stay focused, only worry about what we need to be good at, and hopefully everything will fall into place."

It might, though no one at Liverpool is underestimating the difficulty of the task. Two seasons ago Rodgers and his players made it look easy, blasting away the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham to breeze into the top four and even make Manchester City sweat on claiming a second Premier League title - although the contribution made to that startling campaign by Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge was considerable.

That is the benchmark Liverpool have set for themselves, even though two of the forwards have moved on and the other has struggled for fitness and form since. Liverpool do not have the settled squad of Arsenal and Chelsea, nor the money available to the two Manchester clubs, though that is the company they seek. Their loyal support demands nothing less. If it is hope that kills you in sport, and Rodgers made a rod for his own back when showing what was possible in 2013-'14. The brief, as Lallana says, is to get back among the big players once again. When he joined a year ago he joined a Champions League club with title aspirations. Unless Liverpool can recover that status they will be regarded as failures, even by people within the club, because the one thing no one at Anfield can accept is just ticking along. Even three years without a trophy gets noticed.

But first comes Stoke. Not rich, not in the Champions League bracket, 43 years without a major trophy. Just a feisty mid-range club, boisterous match-day atmosphere and a manager with an eye for a bargain and a record of surprising bigger teams. What the Premier League is all about, in other words. Welcome back.


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