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Resurgent Lallana proof of Liverpool's 'relentless' quest for perfection

15:00 GMT+3 13/01/2020
Adam Lallana Liverpool 2019-20
The England midfielder explains why the Reds were not pleased with their performance in winning at Tottenham on Saturday

If ever you wanted an insight into the mentality of this Liverpool team, then this was it.

As the Reds players left the field at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the camera captured an exchange between Jurgen Klopp and Jordan Henderson.

Henderson, it seemed, was not best pleased.

“Not good enough,” the captain told his manager, before offering a rather more cutting assessment. 

“It was sh*t,” he added.

Never mind that Liverpool had won 1-0. Never mind that they had moved 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League. Never mind that they had just confirmed the best ever start to a top-flight season in ANY of Europe’s top five leagues. 

This is Liverpool, 2020. A team of high achievers with high standards. And if you fall below those standards, even in victory, expect to be told about it.

Henderson’s message was repeated by team-mates afterwards. 

“We always strive to do better,” suggested Gini Wijnaldum. “We have to do much better,” agreed Virgil van Dijk. Klopp himself revealed that Roberto Firmino, his side’s match-winner, had apologised after the game for missing chances.

Later, Adam Lallana would offer even more insight into the mindset which is driving this remarkable team.

“It’s on us to keep grounded,” said the midfielder. “We have such a great group of lads for that. 

“We’ve come back in there and after the game we are speaking about how we could have seen it out better. I’m sure it was entertaining for the neutral but we don’t want to be winning games relying on our keeper or seeing shots go past the post. 

“It’s a great mentality that we have, we don’t want to settle for just winning games. That’s a big reason why we are in the position we are. We want to be relentless.”

Tottenham was the 10th league game this season that Liverpool have won by a single goal, and their fourth 1-0 win in six games in all competitions.

And while the return of the clean sheet is welcome – this was their sixth in a row in the league – Lallana believes the league leaders can still improve in terms of killing off games.

“I think maybe we need to adapt,” he said. “There is always room for improvement, and even [against Spurs] we could have controlled the game better. 

“Maybe we were a little bit surprised at how much time we had on the ball, but it’s about keeping the ball better, manipulating the ball and seeing games out better if we want to improve and keep this unbeaten run going. 

“Teams are going to adapt their philosophies to play against us, and we have to try and counter that and see games out better.”

Lallana himself had made a significant contribution to the victory. The 31-year-old appeared as a second-half substitute as Klopp’s team looked to protect the three points. Lallana replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield after 61 minutes, yet finished the game having completed more passes than his fellow England international. Additionally, he won as many tackles as any member of the Spurs team, and contested as many duels as Van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Firmino, all of whom played the full 90 minutes.

“It was eventful when I came on,” he smiled. “I think I calmed it down for the first 10 minutes, and then the last 20 minutes it was ‘do we go for the second goal or keep possession?’ 

“We had all this time on the ball and we maybe dwelt on it too much at times and caused our own problems. But that’s what I say, we can always improve more. We don’t ever want to be complacent, and it’s good to look back and see places you can improve. That’s a good mentality to have.”

Lallana himself is enjoying something of a resurgence. Fit and injury-free, the former Southampton man has put the frustration of the past two seasons behind him, embracing his role as a senior figure within Klopp’s squad. 

He has already made more appearances (17) than he did in either 2017-18 or 2018-19, and his contributions, either from the start or off the bench, have generally been impressive. His performance, as captain of a young side, against Everton in the FA Cup earlier this month was one of his finest in a Liverpool shirt. It was certainly enough to prompt Klopp to doff his cap to the midfield man at the final whistle. Lallana had informed Klopp the previous day, having witnessed an intense training session at Melwood, that "the kids" were ready to take on their Merseyside neighbours.

Lallana's contract at Anfield is due to expire in the summer, and as things stand there have been no formal discussions over an extension. 

Sources have told Goal that while Klopp would love him to stay - the pair share an excellent relationship - there is an acceptance that it may be in the player's best interests to look elsewhere. Klopp believes Lallana is still capable of playing regularly for a top team for the next three years, if fit.

Lallana, for his part, has been relaxed around the situation. There is no issue with the club's stance, there has been no bartering, and there has certainly been no drop in his standards or professionalism. In fact, Liverpool's fitness and medical staff believe he is currently in the best shape he has been for a number of years, looking as fit and as strong as any of his first-team counterparts.

“It’s about training harder," Lallana said. "When you’re not playing, it’s hard to maintain your fitness levels to come back in and be able to perform in this team. So you have to train harder, train stronger and make yourself ready, keep on top of everything, so when you are called upon you can deliver performances like last week [Everton].

“Obviously I want to be playing as much as possible, but I understand I have a role in this team. At times it might frustrate me, but it’s all about the team. We are winning games and that’s all that matters.

“I just want to contribute as much as possible. At times you’ve got to be patient, and that’s it. I just take it; another good training week, train hard and train strong, look to perform there and hopefully start at the weekend."