OpinionJohn Aldridge

Lallana needs to up his game to get the best from Benteke

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge
Adam Lallana
Adam Lallana

It was easy to suggest Christian Benteke disappointed as he made his Premier League debut for Liverpool last Sunday, but my chief concern did not focus around the big Belgian striker.

Plenty of cynics have suggested that Benteke will not fit into the Liverpool way of playing and if you looked at his muted performance in the 1-0 win at Stoke last Sunday, that argument was given some credence as he struggled to make any kind of impression.

Yet I had greater concerns about one of Brendan Rodgers’s big signings from a year ago, with Adam Lallana not doing it for me since he arrived at Liverpool with a big reputation to live up to last summer.

Lallana has been at the club for a year now, so you would expect him to be fully integrated into the team, but I’m still wondering what he has to offer and where his best position might be.

He loves a little back flick or a little bit of fancy footwork, but what was needed from Lallana last Sunday at Stoke was to get the ball into the box and try to give Benteke the kind of service he thrives on. 

Well, Lallana didn’t get a single decent ball into the box and that has been the story for much of his time at Liverpool. 

This is an experienced Premier League player and he should be doing a bit better – the importance of the wide men is even more significant than ever this season.

New full-back Nathaniel Clyne and impressive young left-back Joe Gomez will get forward and offer an attacking threat, while regular readers of my Sunday World column will know I have a lot of time for Jordon Ibe. 

He will have a big season if he is given time to flourish, but Lallana needs to start delivering now.

He is an England international who has been playing at the highest level for many years now and, whatever his chosen position might be, Liverpool need to start seeing a little more from him as this season begins to take shape.

When Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez were tearing defences apart with their individual attacking brilliance a couple of seasons back, whipping balls into the dangerous attacking areas in the opposition penalty area was not a major part of Liverpool’s make-up.

Benteke’s arrival means the focus of the team needs to change a little and even though intricate passing – or tippy tappy football as I’ve heard it called – will still be the primary approach promoted by Liverpool team boasting lots of talented midfielders, the dynamic of the team has shifted for the better in my view.

The Lallana issue aside, I was encouraged by I what saw from Liverpool as they ground out a fine 1-0 win at Stoke last weekend. 

It wasn’t pretty, it rarely is on the first weekend of the season. Players are not up to speed and it can take them time to click into top gear, but getting the win was a massive bonus for Rodgers.

Having a target man who can hold the ball up helps in all departments because, when Liverpool were on the back foot all too often last season, they didn’t have the option to hit the ball downfield in a bid to relieve some pressure.

With Benteke now at the front of the team, Liverpool have a guy who offers them an out ball.

It also means the opposition defences can’t squeeze quite so high up on Liverpool this season, as they now have to contend with a player who can occupy them physically.

Liverpool have players who can win games with flashes of magic and we saw that at Stoke, with Philippe Coutinho’s late goal a touch of class – and I liked what I saw from the summer signing Roberto Firmino (inset) during his little cameo at the end of the game.

None of us know a whole lot about this Brazilian who cost £29m, but he is showing signs of promise and I’d throw him in from the start against Bournemouth at Anfield tomorrow.

Finding a balance in the attacking third was a task Rodgers failed to get to grips with last season, but he has Benteke, Ibe, Coutinho and Firmino as a first choice attacking line-up at this moment in time. It is a pretty exciting quartet.

Then you have Danny Ings, Divock Origi, Lallana and Daniel Sturridge as an alternative attack minded foursome waiting in the wings – it is an array of talent that should give Liverpool a chance of pushing for a top four finish this season.

Liverpool fans would have been encouraged to see Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United turn in faltering performances on the opening weekend of the season and while they are all certain to improve, Liverpool should be much closer to the top four than they were last season.