For years, Southampton fans have talked about the prospect of Adam Lallana representing England, but even they must have been surprised the midfielder received a call-up from Roy Hodgson quite so soon after arriving in the Premier League.
After Southampton lost their opening three games of the season, it seemed Lallana would have to wait for his chance Ã¢ÂÂ but Hodgson was suitably impressed to include Lallana on the bench for the 1-1 draw against Ukraine on Tuesday night.
Southampton have a habit of producing good young wingers Ã¢ÂÂ Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nathan Dyer are the most obvious examples Ã¢ÂÂ and Lallana is another wide midfielder that came through the youth ranks. He is a very different type of player, however.
Whereas the aforementioned quartet are all extremely quick, a lack of pace is LallanaÃ¢ÂÂs main weakness. He compensates for that with a fantastic appreciation of space and an eye for a clever pass, and in terms of a footballing brain, Lallana is arguably the best talent of those five.
So far this season, Lallana has played two different roles for Nigel AdkinsÃ¢ÂÂ side. Although a position on the left of a midfield four seems most natural, Southampton splashed the cash on Jay Rodriguez, an option as a more direct winger, so Lallana started the opening game at Manchester City in the centre of midfield. The positions of his passes were interesting, though Ã¢ÂÂ naturally, Lallana drifted towards the left touchline.
For the next game, at home to Wigan, Lallana was deployed out on the left, with Rodriguez only on the bench. But, fascinatingly, the positions of his passes actually became more central Ã¢ÂÂ he frequently received the ball in the middle of the pitch, and most of his passes are played inside into the midfield zone.
When deployed on the left he spends more time in the centre, when deployed in the centre he spends more time on the left. It sums up LallanaÃ¢ÂÂs game well Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂs about drifting into pockets of space away from his marker.
He did play ten crosses against Wigan, however, and this is an area he must improve upon Ã¢ÂÂ none of these were successful.
Against Manchester United, where he again played from the left, he received balls in two distinct zones Ã¢ÂÂ either in a standard left-midfield position, or near the edge of the penalty box in a classic playmaking zone. Again, it shows that his game is about movement and variation of positioning.
It was also interesting that LallanaÃ¢ÂÂs defensive work all came in the centre of the pitch Ã¢ÂÂ in fact, his five interceptions/tackles all occured in exactly the same position.
Southampton conceded three goals following wide deliveries in that match, and one of their obvious weaknesses so far this season is the poor defensive contribution from their wide players. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre slow to get back and protect their full-backs, either because theyÃ¢ÂÂre too high up the pitch, or have drifted into central positions Ã¢ÂÂ Arsenal may look to exploit that this weekend.
It will be fascinating to see if Lallana can make it as a Premier League player. His lack of pace is a hindrance Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂs noticeably afraid to move the ball out in front of him, always trying to keep the ball close to his body, which often means he takes too many touches and slows the play down.
His appreciation of space and his passing ability is exceptional however, and as SouthamptonÃ¢ÂÂs captain for this season, needs to have a consistent impact upon matches. HeÃ¢ÂÂs an untypical English player, and if he performs well over the course of the season, he could provide Roy Hodgson with a valuable option on the left of midfield.
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