Against his former club Swansea in the Capital One Cup he was poor, and against Chelsea last Sunday his performance deteriorated further.
After an impressive start to his Anfield career, the young Welshman is suffering a dip in form, but given Liverpool’s lack of depth in his position, an immediate solution is not apparent.
When Lucas Leiva was ruled out for 3 months just two games into the season, Liverpool not only lost their only true defensive midfielder, they also had to sacrifice their most consistent source of territorial domination. Joe Allen was forced to drop into Lucas’ deep lying holding role and play his unerringly accurate passes from an area of the field that was far less threatening to opposing sides, while at the same time, he was burdened with being Liverpool’s ball winner in the middle of the park. Having decided that Jay Spearing wasn’t up to the task of being Lucas’ understudy anymore and sending the young Scouser off to Bolton on loan, Brendan Rodgers was left with no choice but to adapt the role of his £15m signing from Swansea. To Allen’s credit, he has done a sterling job for the most part; but working double shifts eventually catches up with you.
In the absence of Lucas Liverpool have been vulnerable to counter attacks through the middle of the pitch all season and this was highlighted and exploited numerous times by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week. Whenever Allen strayed forward where perhaps Lucas would not have, Chelsea pounced. Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar all wreaked havoc with incisive dribbles on the counter that penetrated right through the heart of Liverpool’s midfield. Joe Allen was not only outnumbered by Chelsea’s dynamic, inventive trio as Steven Gerrard and Nuri Sahin failed to provide adequate defensive assistance, he was also causing himself problems that weren’t related to his on-field positioning.
Allen’s main quality is to retain possession of the football for his team. His passing accuracy is usually impeccable, but against Swansea and particularly against Chelsea, he was continuously robbed of the ball or presenting passes to his opponents. He was losing possession far more frequently than is the norm for him.
The obvious reason for this is that Allen is not in peak condition right now, or to put it more bluntly, he looks absolutely knackered. This concerning trait reached its nadir when he was dispossessed by Fernando Torres on the half-way line and had no other way of rectifying his mistake than administering a crude, desperate rugby tackle to prevent the Spaniard’s break forward as he was certain to be left trialling the striker, like a marathon runner chasing Usain Bolt in the 100 metre dash.
Allen’s manager has said on several occasions that he has been doing the work of two or three players in an attempt to keep Liverpool’s midfield running smoothly during Lucas’ prolonged absence, and you can see what he means. Allen is currently being charged with being a ball winner and a playmaker all wrapped into one. For a while it has worked, but physically and mentally it is obviously taking its toll on the Welshman.
Allen is playing only his second full season in the Premier League and is just 22 years old. To ask so much of such an inexperienced player in a high pressure environment like Anfield was always going to pushing it and it is a credit to Allen that he has managed the situation as well as he has.
When Lucas eventually returns to action, Allen is likely to be deployed alongside the Brazilian and left to play his more natural role of prompting Liverpool’s attacks as his defensive responsibilities are reduced. Lucas is now back in training, and with Nuri Sahin, Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey, Jordan Henderson and Suso all able to occupy positions in Liverpool’s midfield trio, hopefully it won’t be long before Joe Allen also gets a bit of a break. Bad week against Swansea and Chelsea or not, he’s certainly earned one.
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