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Southampton's World Cup hopeful Adam Lallana gives England options
The one thing that always seemed as if it might hold Adam Lallana back could be about to prove a crucial strength.
Lallana has always been a mercurial talent, a player with amazing touch, quality on the ball and vision.
As he has matured physically and mentally, he has added strength, extra pace, direct running and composure in front of goal too.
They are all the kind of attributes you would look for in a footballer who can thrive not only at Premier League level but also in the international arena.
However, ever since his formative years, there has always been an elephant in the room when it comes to talking about Lallana’s top level chances. It would be remarkable if that supposed issue now plays into his hands and helps him land a World Cup place with England.
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The big question over whether Lallana would really make it at the highest levels was always asked, because some viewed it as tough to fit him into a team.
It’s not like Luke Shaw, for example. He is a left back, most teams play with a left back, his position is defined and obvious.
Lallana’s role has always been far more ambiguous.
When he was coming through the ranks at Saints, the youth and reserve teams made a special exception for him.
It is normal these days that the lower rungs at a club play the same style and formation as the first team.
The logic is pretty obvious – that if you get the youngsters and the reserves used to it then it is easier for them to progress through and integrate quickly and successfully into the first team.
That plan was abandoned for Lallana.
The youth coaches of the day, who deserve so much of the credit for the player he has become, built a team around him.
Lallana’s talents dictated that he shouldn’t be tied down to a fixed position and so, more often than not, he was allowed to play in the hole behind a front two.
That always allowed him to drift into space to collect the ball, to create for others and to get into goalscoring positions himself.
Anybody who watched him at that level would have to admit that he was quite brilliant at it.
There was always a nagging doubt, though – just how would he integrate into a first team?
It was never a question over his ability, or even his mental strength.
It was purely about how you slide him in.
Here he was, just a promising teenager with loads of ability but no first team experience, and as a manager you were faced with either trying to force him into a role that didn’t look as if it would suit him or build an entire side around him.
With all due respect, few managers would be likely to try and create a team around one young player who was largely untried.
Lallana though emerged just at the right time.
He had announced his arrival with a goal at West Brom as Nigel Pearson helped steer Saints to Championship safety, and then entered Jan Poortvliet and Mark Wotte.
At that time Saints were struggling financially and were intent on building a side around their young players, and hoping that was enough to keep them up once again.
Suddenly, Lallana was a jewel in the crown, and with the ethos and infrastructure at the club as it was then the side was being built around his mercurial talents as much as it could be allowing for what else there was to pick from at that time.
It was an important season for Lallana, who got the chance to establish himself.
As the years rolled on, so it got easier for a manager to justify playing Lallana wherever he saw fit.
The only time he really got pigeonholed anywhere was as Saints won back-to-back promotions.
Lallana was largely used a left sided midfielder in a 4-4-2, albeit he played it in an unconventional way.
As soon as Saints were back in the top flight, the formation changed to the 4-2-3-1 and Lallana was given even more licence to roam, the shackles lifted by the fact you had to be more creative than strictly disciplined as had been the case lower down.
Since then, Lallana has proven he has what it takes to be the focal point of a side. Now 25, and with proven match-winning tendencies, a manager would consider building a team around him.
That is exactly what Roy Hodgson must now be contemplating ahead of the World Cup.
The England manager doesn’t appear to have totally settled on a starting formation or line-up for the first game in Brazil just yet, but Lallana is certainly at the forefront of his thoughts.
And, as Hodgson surely considers his inclusion would be for those magically brilliant creative moments Lallana can deliver, he would want to accommodate him in whatever role he thought he would most likely thrive.
England could go with a 4-2-3-1 type formation, as played by Saints, in which case Daniel Sturridge might well lead the attack with Wayne Rooney in behind, Lallana on the left side and possibly raw pace in the shape of Raheem Sterling or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other.
Certainly that looks better than the 4-3-3 type formation Hodgson used against Denmark, which was ineffective in the first half and in which Rooney, a nailed on starter if fit, does not look comfortable.
Even if Hodgson did go with that formation with Rooney the more advanced, then Lallana can play one side and Sturridge the other, giving the option of going to two up front with a player in behind in a throwback to those youth days if required.
Lallana could even occupy one of the deeper three midfield roles, with Steven Gerrard providing the anchoring midfield role and leaving him to attack. There is little doubt, though, that 4-2-3-1 suits Lallana and England far better.
No matter what way you look at it, you can make a case for getting Lallana into a role in which he can enjoy freedom enough to thrive.
Experience and proven top level match winning capabilities have meant that the problems Lallana initially faced in just trying to become a first team regular at a lower league club side might be what helps him play in a World Cup finals for his country.
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