Adam Lallana has had to battle back from numerous injury setbacks throughout his career. But the hammer blow of contracting coronavirus in January was unlike anything he’d experienced.
“It was quite bad to be honest,” the Brighton playmaker told Sky Sports, as he reflected on the impact the illness had on him at the start of this year.
“I was bed bound for a week, isolating on my own in my flat in Hove for two and a half weeks, and it just completely wiped me out.
“I had to build up from scratch, really. You don’t even spend three weeks in the off season doing nothing, so it was almost like I had to have a complete reset and that takes time. But I’m gradually feeling like I’m getting back up to full fitness again.”
It was eye-opening to hear a Premier League player explain the extent to which the virus can affect even elite athletes but, gladly, Lallana is healthy again now – and he has rejoined a Brighton squad aiming to make their own recovery.
Graham Potter’s side ended a five-game winless run in the top flight with a much-needed victory at Southampton on Sunday, with Lallana pulling the strings from a deeper midfield role than he has played traditionally and involved in the winning goal.
It was the ideal start to what feels like a pivotal seven days for the club.
On Saturday night they host Newcastle, who sit one point and one place below Albion in the table. Victory for either side would be an important step towards safety – but defeat would leave them vulnerable and worryingly looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone and Scott Parker’s third-bottom Fulham.
However, the win at Southampton has eased the pressure a little and, combined with Brighton’s good recent performances, allowed the squad to approach this crunch contest with Newcastle with confidence, says Lallana.
“We’re trying not to build it up because there’s still nine games left after this weekend, but it is obviously a big one,” said the 32-year-old.
We’re trying not to build it up because there’s still nine games left after this weekend, but it is obviously a big one.
“I feel like we’re not playing with that pressure that it is a must-win. When you are playing with that pressure it is difficult to perform to your maximum.
“It would have been easy in the game at the weekend against Southampton to feel the pressure and you maybe don’t perform to your best but I think the lads have been quite content with how we’ve been performing.
“It would be different if we’d not been playing well. I’ve been involved in teams, maybe when I played at Southampton all those years ago, when you’re not performing well and you’d feel the pressure more. But because we have been performing well, creating chances, there’s still that little bit of confidence there, which helps.
“The mood has been really good and it has been in the last four or five weeks, even though we’ve struggled to pick up points because if we played those games all over again how we played, we’d get points. We’ve been unfortunate.
“It was just important we kept plugging away and performing well and backed ourselves to turn those performances into results and we did that at the weekend.”
Playing well but not getting enough points in reward has been the theme of Brighton’s season. While Expected Goals data would place them among the European qualification spots, the facts are they are 16th, a point and a place worse off than at the same stage in Chris Hughton’s final season.
Lallana refuses to just point to bad luck for that return – but is optimistic the Seagulls are on the right path under Potter.
“It’s about shifting your mentality a little bit,” he says. “You can perform well for 80 per cent, 90 per cent of the game but, at this level, if you drop off ever so slightly you get punished and we’ve been on the receiving end of that a lot this season.
“We can sit here and say we’re unlucky but there’s a part of it that shows we’ve not been unlucky. We’ve become passive through a certain part of the game or lost concentration for a certain part of the game.
“That’s about evolving your mentality as a team and I’ve definitely seen improvements over the course of the year. Hopefully we can keep improving at that, stay up this year and hopefully set different goals for next season.
“We’ve got a really talented, big squad here and I really do see bright things for the future of Brighton. There’s probably no one better than the manager to implement that because his philosophy and the way he wants to play football is exciting and it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”
Lallana revealed Potter, just 13 years older, has leaned on the Premier League winner’s experience at times this season but says he is relishing the opportunity to play in the Brighton manager’s set-up.
“I don’t mind where I play,” he said. “The week before I played in a higher role against Leicester, last week I played in a deeper role… I’m not sure if that’s just what happens when you get older!
“But I’m really enjoying my football and especially the way the manager wants to play. He’s been great with me ever since I’ve been here and it’s nice to get a good run of games. But now the most important thing is getting the points for the team which will see us in the division next year. “
That is, of course, the caveat. If Brighton are to realise that progress and potential they must remain in the Premier League.
With Lallana fit again and returning to form, their hopes of doing that are better. They received another boost last weekend with the return to the side of Danny Welbeck.
The striker made his first Premier League start in almost three months and marked it with an assist and impressive all-round performance.
“He’s an unbelievable talent and he has been his whole career,” said Lallana of his team-mate and former England colleague. “It was his first game for a while at the weekend and I thought he was exceptional, especially considering it was his first game.
“If Danny can play the next nine, 10 games for us and get some rhythm, he’s guaranteed to find the back of the net.”
The experience of Lallana and Welbeck could be key in this crucial run-in – and on Saturday night against Newcastle.
A hardcore football fan, Kofi Blay is also a data analyst and a Master chef.