Liverpool midfielder Lallana could come up short in WCup bid

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — He was a lock-in at Liverpool, and a player that was integral to England’s midfield at the start of its road to the 2018 World Cup.

Now, Adam Lallana might be wondering where he fits in at his Premier League club. And whether he’ll even make it to this year’s tournament in Russia at all.

Amid an injury-ravaged season, the 29-year-old Lallana started his first game in two months in Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday. He played the full 90 minutes — for the first time all season — as Juergen Klopp carefully managed his resources with his team all but through to the quarterfinals after a 5-0 win in the first leg.

Lallana showed some neat touches and turns, which is his forte, and created one of the best chances of the night when his cut-back was skewed wide by James Milner early in the second half. Otherwise, he didn’t offer much threat on a flat evening at Anfield.

With Liverpool now into the last eight of the Champions League and in second place in the Premier League with nine games left, don’t be surprised if this is the last time Lallana starts a match for his club this season.

“The time will come for him, 100 percent,” Klopp said ahead of the Porto game, insisting the midfielder is still a key part of his plans.

When, though?

The depth of competition in Liverpool’s midfield is so strong these days, even with Philippe Coutinho — an attacking midfielder like Lallana — no longer around following his January move to Barcelona.

Instead, Lallana is facing barriers to the starting lineup in the form of two rejuvenated English players, Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Then, there’s the arrival from Leipzig in the upcoming offseason of Naby Keita, another central midfielder who likes to get forward.

Lallana usually plays in a central-midfield three but was deployed as one of the three forwards against Porto, initially starting on the left and occasionally drifting to the right. Yet there’s no realistic chance of him ever replacing any of Liverpool’s devastating front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

The first half of the season was a virtual write-off for Lallana. He started it with a thigh injury that kept him out for the first three months, then hurt the same thigh again early into his comeback.

Since starting an FA Cup match against Everton on Jan. 5, Lallana has come on five times as a late second-half substitute. He has started only three games all season.

The frustration has been clear.

Picked for an under-23 match last month, Lallana was sent off for grabbing an opponent by the neck — clearly angry at being the subject of some hard tackles. He apologized to his coach and teammates, and made contact with his opponent to say sorry.

“Life is to learn from your mistakes and we all have to learn,” Klopp said about Lallana, before acknowledging Liverpool might have brought him back too early from his initial thigh injury.

“He looked fit, but obviously he was not. Two little setbacks, not the biggest setbacks, but in and out, in and out, and that makes no sense. Now we have to build with him.”

Will that be in time for the World Cup?

England coach Gareth Southgate has kept in regular contact with Lallana during the tough times this year. There are two England friendlies coming up this month — against the Netherlands and Italy — before Southgate selects his squad for Russia.

In Raheem Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek (who is currently injured), Southgate isn’t short of attacking midfielders if Lallana doesn’t prove he is fit enough for the World Cup.

Lallana, the scorer of England’s first goal in its World Cup qualification campaign, needs game time to show he is ready.

The question is, will he get that at Liverpool between now and May?

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