It was a night at Wembley that many supporters have become accustomed to witnessing: a dull performance, mixed with wretched, yet cautious tactics, and underachieving Premier League stars — this is England’s national team in a nutshell.
Creativity was non-existent, a sense of authority in midfield was exemplified solely through Steven Gerrard’s proficient passing, and activity in the final third was clustered, opposed to fluid.
Roy Hodgson’s side has found it difficult to make Wembley a fortress; look no further than recent defeats to Germany and Chile, in which the Three Lions were convincingly outclassed. In fairness, Hodgson is in the process of rebuilding a team that is light-years away from being considered an elite side. From a result perspective he’s maximized his side’s potential, but over the past few years England’s performances have been laboured.
In England’s final test before Hodgson submits his final 23-man roster, a response was expected. Denmark was the opposition, Wembley was the auditioning stage, and a jubilant evening for England supporters was expected; yet for the opening hour, Hodgson’s men were dismal. Daniel Sturridge’s impact was limited on the flanks, Wayne Rooney looked bewildered in midfield, and apart from crashing into Danish defenders, Jack Wilshere failed to influence the match.
England was pedestrian in possession, lacking the guile, invention, and direction required to succeed. It’s uncertain whether Hodgson would turn to his bench so early in the second half, but a play in which both Wilshere and Rooney collapsed to the ground following bone-crushing tackles, forced Hodgson to alter his personnel.
The former’s unimpressive night came to a conclusion, thus introducing Adam Lallana to the fray. Frankly, the likelihood of Lallana featuring in the national team set-up was practically unthinkable a few years ago.
Despite watching former Saints academy graduates in Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain develop superstar status with their moves to respectable London clubs, Lallana’s derailed road to prominence has enabled him to become a fan favourite at St. Mary’s. Now, talent didn’t impede Lallana’s opportunity to make a move to the Premier League earlier in his career, but the 25-year-old midfielder was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis — the bowel disease Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher battled — and an irregular heartbeat.
Ultimately, health concerns kept Lallana at St. Mary’s where he’s developed into a key cog in midfield. Lallana battled with Saints through administration in League One, and is now captain of Mauricio Pochettino’s dynamic club. Although Lallana might have preferred a big-money move to a top-side in the past, the England international is pleased that he stuck around.
“It’s worked out. I’m 25, I’m captain and it’s special. I love the club and feel like I’ve grown with it from League One to Championship to now playing week-in, week-out in the Premier League. It’s a great feeling, I’m really enjoying it,” Lallana told the Independent.
A delayed road to prominence was never in Lallana’s agenda when he joined Southampton’s youth system at the age of 12, but it was only a matter of time before he lived up to expectations. Lallana’s seven goals and five assists awarded the Saints midfielder a national team call-up, one that Pochettino believed he fully deserved.
"Of course he is a very talented player, a very special player. He is a player I really praise, I really like his characteristics as a player and hopefully he can be on that plane to Brazil because I think he fully deserves to be there,” Pochettino said. "You can see that he is one of the most talented players in the English game right now.”
Lallana received 32 minutes to sway England supporters, and Hodgson into believing that he merits a spot in the final 23-man squad, and he didn’t disappoint. England desperately lacks creativity in advanced positions, and Lallana was the catalyst behind their best moves.
Although many would expect Lallana’s lack of pace to hinder his overall impact in wide areas, the 25-year old is a versatile, but deviant English product. What separates Lallana from most Premier League midfielders is his appreciation of space, and ability to play clever passes around the final third.
Performances against Spurs, and most recently Liverpool, typify his game. Lallana cleverly drifted into space behind and alongside Gerrard and quickly facilitated play in the final third. Despite Saints’ poor finishing, Lallana exposed Gerrard in midfield with his movement into central areas, thus highlighting the threat he poses. The 25-year-old possesses the ability to dictate his side’s attack, and in the latter stages of England’s friendly against Denmark, Lallana’s presence was an asset.
Similarly, Lallana’s movement was an improvement from their stagnant attacks in the opening hour, as he intelligently located pockets of space within the Danish midfield. In a 14-minute span, Lallana crafted England’s best moves — his clever ball in Denmark’s third played Danny Welbeck towards the edge of the box, but Kasper Schmeichel kept the score line levelled.
Subsequently, he combined with Raheem Sterling and delivered his second well-driven cross into the box, which evaded his oncoming teammates. Nevertheless, Lallana continued to surge forward, and his persistence enabled him to create Sturridge’s winning goal. A quick corner-kick saw Lallana combine with Sterling, thus creating a yard of space with his trickery and lofting a well-weighted ball in the box for Sturridge to nod into the back post.
Hodgson’s substitution paid off, as Lallana injected trickery, invention and creativity into a match destined to finish in a goalless draw. Lallana’s inspirational display overshadowed Wilshere’s sub-par performance, and with the Arsenal midfielder now sidelined for six-weeks, the chances of the Saints midfielder featuring in Hodgson’s final squad have increased immensely.
“If I don’t get selected, it would be disappointing. But this time last year, if you had told me I would have two caps for my country and be in the last squad before the end of the season, I just wouldn’t have believed you,” Lallana said.
“Now I’ll do everything I can to prove my worth. If it’s not meant to be I’ll keep working hard, trying to improve and hopefully go again next season.”
The 25-year-old midfielder doesn’t fear adversity, and his hardworking persona separates him from many footballers within his age bracket. Perhaps, Lallana wouldn’t feature in England’s starting 11, but the Saints midfielder is a rare specimen that could prove to be valuable off the bench.
Unlike the other wide players at Hodgson’s disposal, Lallana would provide balance on the flanks. Lallana’s creative instinct, appreciation of space and eye for goal epitomize the Saints midfielder — yet, also highlight characteristics that his English teammates don’t possess.
Lallana’s endured various battles throughout his professional career, and with 10 Premier League games remaining the 25-year-old holds the keys to his childhood dream.
Representing England on world football’s biggest stage.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com