Liverpool's Adam Lallana shows desire and passion the way to the top

On Aug. 19, 2012, Southampton marked their return to the Premier League after a seven-year absence with a thrilling 3-2 defeat by champions Manchester City on the opening weekend.

Then-Saints boss Nigel Adkins moved away from the trusted 4-4-2 formation that had, on the whole, served them well during their back-to-back promotions from League One, in favour of a 4-2-3-1. And club captain Adam Lallana -- often used in a wider position -- took on the role of a deep No. 10, effectively operating as a central midfielder at times.

Lallana provided the assist for a Steven Davis goal off a rapid breakaway and, although Southampton ultimately lost the game, the midfielder showed the vision and creativity to suggest that he might thrive in that position.

The midfielder moved on to Liverpool in the summer of 2014 for £25 million, and Jurgen Klopp now uses him in a similar way to Adkins on that opening day.

Having first tested his suitability to the position this preseason in the 4-0 victory over Barcelona at Wembley, the 28-year-old is now in the form of his life, which has led to former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher declaring him as "England's best player."

Lallana's performances this season have massively contributed to Liverpool's push for the title. The midfielder's ability to adapt to an entirely different role is not the only reason, though.

"I think the biggest compliment I can give to Adam is when your best technical player is your hardest-working player at the club, then it doesn't half make your job easy," former Saints assistant manager Andy Crosby told ESPN FC.

"He was the last one in the training complex doing anything to find another one percent in his game to take it to the next level. He will leave no stone unturned to keep on improving."

Ex-Southampton boss Mark Wotte, who Lallana played under during the 2008-09 season and is now now performance director at the Moroccan football federation, recalls similar experiences.

"He had a fantastic mindset," Wotte said. "He was never late, he was always interested and coachable. Sometimes when he was not starting a game he wouldn't make a problem about it and he'd work even harder on the training ground. I loved working with him everyday."

Lallana's passion mirrors his approach on the pitch and, as a result of his supreme game intelligence, he has been entrusted with the responsibility of being one of the triggers in Klopp's side to begin the process of his trademark high-pressing style. Indeed, his energy levels make him the perfect candidate.

"We never rested him," Crosby added. "Again, that comes down to what you do on Monday to Friday. If you're putting in the amount of work he does then the game becomes a step down from that really intensive level."

Wotte believes the only obvious flaw in Lallana's game is overcome by his workrate.

"Adam had a natural energy level," Wotte said. "He was always on the run, he was never standing still. It's probably because his first five metres are not that explosive, he always has to be on the move to beat another player.

"Whenever he lost the ball, he was the first one chasing -- the high pressure, the transition, the counter-pressing part of the football. Adam was one of the guys, who if he lost the ball then he would start sprinting to win the ball until he had it back. Adam did it naturally."

When Liverpool were doing their due diligence on Lallana before they made a bid, one of the phone calls that Reds' head of performance and analysis Michael Edwards, now sporting director, made was to Dean Wilkins -- first-team coach at Southampton under Adkins.

"He has incredible self-humility," Wilkins told ESPN FC. "He would actually come off some games, having played well, and apologise for a chance that he missed. I witnessed it a few times. He would say: 'sorry, Dean, I should have put that away.' That to me is a real quality."

The main criticism of Lallana during his debut season at Anfield was his lack of goals and assists. Despite now taking up an starting position further away from the opposition's goal, Lallana is on course to record his highest goal scoring tally as Liverpool player, having found the back of the net seven times -- matching last season's total already.

Wotte notes a lack of goals was a similar assessment when emerging as first-team player at St. Mary's, but says the issue is more a mental one, rather than anything to do with his ability.

"He needs the freedom to find space to make assists or be a goal threat," Wotte said. "Adam was suffering a bit with efficiency. He didn't really score a lot of goals. He was always very good in keeping the ball.

"He had the ability the glide through the defence. He has a very smooth style of play and I remember I said to him at the time that he needed to play by instincts and not keep stopping the ball. He should always keep drifting with the ball, inside or outside."

Away from the pitch, Lallana is known to be very generous with his time. At Southampton, he would regularly be asked to go and visit Saints' academy to talk with the younger players and give them advice on what is required to make it to the top.

"If I had any issues with the boys then I would go to someone like Adam," then-Southampton under-18s coach Jason Dodd told ESPN FC. "He would go out of his way to help the young kids.

"It wasn't just about the way that he plays -- because he is absolutely at the top of his game at the moment -- but it's other things that make him a little bit special, for me. He has time for other people, young players coming through -- time to encourage them and show them what they've got to do and how they've got to do it."

During Adkins' helm at St. Mary's, the GPS data recorded in training sessions showed that Lallana was in the top three players who covered the most distance in training on a daily basis. His desire to succeed was the perfect example to young players, and when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain became the first academy graduate to progress to the first team under Adkins, the coaching staff pointed to Lallana's levels in training as the standard for him to follow.

They had the same piece of advice when Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, too, made the step up.

Lallana has certainly shown the way to the top and doesn't look like slowing down anytime soon. Liverpool have clearly reaped the rewards this season.

"I've been in the game a long time as a player and now as a coach, and it's great when you see people succeed who you really, really want to and who deserve it," Crosby adds. "Adam was definitely one of them."