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50-50 Challenge: Merseyside derby

Liverpool vs. Everton 5 days ago
Read
 Posted by Dave Usher
Jul 26, 2014

Lallana's injury a sign of Reds trouble

With Luis Suarez leaving and several big signings coming in for Liverpool, the ESPN FC team discuss the possibility of Liverpool becoming the Spurs of last season.

When you've just sold the best player in the league, the last thing you need is for your most expensive and most sought-after summer recruit to be struck down with knee ligament damage before even kicking a ball in anger.

Adam Lallana's unfortunate injury is a blow to Liverpool and understandably puts an early dampener on their plans for the new season, but if there is one small crumb of comfort, it's that it could easily have been a whole lot worse. A six-week layoff is far from ideal for player or club, but had the injury to his lateral collateral ligament required an operation, then Lallana would have missed four months. That's a long time -- even Luis Suarez would have been back playing before Lallana.

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If the initial diagnosis proves accurate, however, the 26-year-old should be back in contention by the time the Champions League group stage rolls around, and perhaps even earlier if he's lucky.

The concern for Liverpool is not just the six weeks Lallana will be sidelined, but that he is missing preseason and will therefore be "playing catch-up" when he eventually does return. Advancements in sports science mean that missing preseason is not quite the catastrophe it used to be for a player, but it undoubtedly makes things that bit more difficult for someone looking to make his mark at a new club.

When a player moves to a new team, he wants to get out there playing right away to integrate himself with his new teammates and to win the fans over as quickly as possible. Lallana has been robbed of the opportunity to do that, and will no doubt be a hugely frustrated young man right now. Being injured is bad enough, but being injured having just joined a new club is far, far worse.

Adam Lallana's injury will force everyone to wait to see just how he will fit into the Liverpool side.

It's obviously not the start anyone wanted, and recent history provides cause for some slight alarm, particularly for superstitious types who see this as a "bad omen" or "a sign of things to come." It's irrational, silly even, but I'll admit that was the first thought that crossed my mind when I heard the news of the injury, and I'm fairly sure I'm not alone in that.

Getting off to a good start is vitally important for new signings, and Liverpool have not had much luck of late with players who didn't hit the ground running, particularly those who were hampered by injury early into their Anfield careers.

Take Joe Cole for instance (and thankfully someone eventually did). As daft as it sounds now with the benefit of hindsight, there were high hopes for Cole when he arrived on a Bosman "free" transfer from Chelsea. A five-year contract and a massive salary didn't seem like such a bad idea at the time, but he was sent off on his Premier League debut, missed a penalty at the Kop end on his next appearance and was injured soon after. He never recovered from that nightmare start, and Cole's LFC career was largely disastrous. Unlike Lallana, however, his career path was on a downward curve when he moved to Anfield. It's just that nobody knew just how steep that downward curve would be.

Then there's Alberto Aquilani. The Italian was injured when he signed for the Reds in summer 2009 as a replacement for the imperious Xabi Alonso, and he had to wait until the end of October to finally make his debut. Pound for pound, Aquilani is one of the worst signings in club history, but would things have been different had he been fit when he first arrived on Merseyside? There's no way of knowing, of course, but he may have at least had a fighting chance.

Andy Carroll was another big-money signing who was already on the treatment table when Liverpool shelled out a club-record fee to acquire him in January 2011. Selling Fernando Torres for 50 million pounds might have been the greatest transfer deal of all time if Liverpool had not immediately gone out and blown three-quarters of it on Carroll. His debut was delayed until March, and when he eventually took to the field, he looked out of shape and struggled for form. It was a sign of things to come, as his Liverpool career never really took off as it should have done. It's been the same at West Ham, too -- he limped off on his Hammers debut and has fared little better since.

Liverpool have a history of trouble when new signings don't get off to a good start -- as the lacklustre tenure of Andy Carroll can attest.

One hopes Lallana will be able to buck this recent trend and follow the path of Stephane Henchoz instead. The Swiss defender underwent groin surgery shortly after joining the club in summer 1999 and had to wait until late September to make his Reds bow. He quickly slotted in seamlessly alongside Sami Hyypia, and that defensive partnership was the rock on which Gerard Houllier's Liverpool cup success was based.

Another of Houllier's key men, the German Dietmar Hamann, also endured a frustrating start to his Liverpool career but came through it to establish himself as a key player. Unlike Henchoz and Lallana, he managed to get through his first preseason unscathed but then ruptured ankle ligaments just 24 minutes into his debut on the opening day of the 1999-2000 campaign. He missed three months and was less than impressive in his first season at the club, but he overcame those early problems and went on to have a great career with Liverpool, winning every major club trophy other than the Premier League title. If Lallana is anywhere near as successful in his time at Anfield as Hamann turned out to be, then it will prove to be money well spent.

This injury is both untimely and unfortunate, of course, but Lallana's absence really shouldn't prove to be too damaging to Liverpool, as by the time the fixture load begins to get a little heavy, he should be available for selection once again. Bad omens and irrational worries aside, the most disappointing aspect of Lallana's layoff is that it has temporarily denied Liverpool's supporters the opportunity to see just where exactly he fits into the team.

The preseason games would have given Kopites a useful indicator of exactly what role coach Brendan Rodgers has in mind for the former Southampton man. His versatility means he could just as easily be used in midfield as wide in the front three, but sadly we'll all have to wait a while longer now to find out what Rodgers was thinking when he spent 25 million pounds to take the England man to Anfield.

Looking at things in a positive light (if you can't be positive in preseason then when can you?), at least the Reds have depth to the squad and plenty of options now. If Rodgers envisaged Lallana in his midfield three alongside Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard, then he can still call on Philippe Coutinho, Joe Allen or perhaps even Emre Can instead. If he was thinking of playing Lallana in one of the spots either side of Daniel Sturridge, then he'll just have to make do with any two from Coutinho, Loic Remy, Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic, Suso, Jordon Ibe or Fabio Borini.

Rodgers may be feeling like a kid on Christmas morning who got a brand new Xbox only to be told he can't play with it until March. But never mind eh, Brendan? You'll just have to make do with the PlayStation and the new bike instead.

Dave Usher

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and is the founder/editor of the popular LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. He has written three books on the Reds, the latest of which, "We Go Again," tells the story of the 2013-14 season. You can follow him on Twitter @theliverpoolway.