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Friday, 18 January 2013

Liverpool: What to do with the off-form Joe Allen


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Liverpool and Manchester United battled each other this past weekend in the blockbuster fixture of two most accomplished English clubs.

The fierce rivalry has been lopsided as of late, with Manchester United dominating silverware in the Premier League era, but the fixture hasn’t lost any potency if the exchange between Jonjo Shelvey and Sir Alex Ferguson at Anfield earlier this season is some indication.

On Sunday at Old Trafford the Red Devils mirrored their dominance on the pitch in the first half. The game started with an atrocious opening period from the Reds; capable of only producing one shot, not even on goal. Liverpool were passive and could not influence the game at all. The signature ball retention style of Rodgers flopped. As such, the team surrendered possession persistently.

Joe AllenAfter the break, Liverpool were as impressive in the final half hour as they were disappointing in the first 45 minutes. Certainly the introduction of Daniel Sturridge at half-time helped. And the Reds were able to put the league leaders on the back foot. But it’s a long way back from 2-0 down anywhere, never mind at Old Trafford.

Perhaps if new signing Daniel Sturridge had been wearing glasses, he would have buried his late chance and Liverpool would have stolen a point. As it happened, Liverpool got the points they deserved from the game. Nothing.

Afterwards, Rodgers’s summary was as honest as it was accurate. "We were too tentative in the first half and any chances United had came because we gave the ball away."

He is right. The team looked abysmal. A midfield with Steven Gerrard could not exert any kind of influence. Lucas Leiva was redundant. And Joe Allen - whose form has bottomed out since a bright start to his Anfield career - endured a dreadful first half, his football littered with misplaced passes.

Elsewhere, the wide players lacked the movement and harrying of opposition that is to be expected. Yielding a Suarez up front that was too often alone, with attempts to attack undermined by an absence of players in key areas.

And at the back, the marking on both goals conceded was criminal.

So it could be successfully argued that the first 45 minutes saw 11 players below quality, but Joe Allen has been singled out for criticism.

That first half is evidence that suggests Allen, Lucas and Gerrard in the centre are far from the answer and the problem lies directly with the Welshman.

Against United, Sterling and Downing were completely ineffective and unable to win back the ball; making any loss of possession from the midfield greatly amplified. Thus exposing Allen repeatedly.

But Allen hasn’t been at his best for months. After amply substituting in the role of combative midfielder while Lucas was injured, he has been lost upon the Brazilian’s return.

It appears the Welshman is being played out of his favored holding position, but keeping a place in the side due to favouritism. His former manager at Swansea, and now current manager, looks guilty of selection preference in an effort to justify the summer transfer fee.

In a way similar to the manner in which Henderson's £16 million fee last season quickly became an added pressure on the young player while he was repeatedly deployed out of position to little effect. Now, a year on and under a new manager, it's Allen's £15 million fee that grows increasingly large in retrospect as Rodgers shoehorns him into the side regardless of form and often in a role he's not suited for — and, in a strangely ironic twist, often at the expense of Henderson.

If Rodgers realises that Allen needs a rest to rediscover form, who is most likely to come into the side as the advanced midfielder?

Most have assumed Jordan Henderson is not incisive enough to take on the attacking midfield role. However, on the evidence of the past two months it's clear that with Gerrard having claimed that box-to-box role for the time being, Henderson is at least the best option currently at hand to fill the void.

Second to Henderson for the role would have to either be the inconsistent but promising Jonjo Shelvey or the completely inexperienced but similarly promising Suso — likely leaving Allen the club's fourth best option at the moment.

Rodgers, however, doesn't appear to see things that way and the persistence in Allen is at present only helping to keep the player stuck in the rut he's been in since the autumn. It's also causing many fans to begin to sour on the player, especially given that quite substantial transfer fee.

Liverpool’s recent positive results have been divergent of Allen’s form; having won seven of 10 in all competitions, and good enough for 15 points in the last seven league games. Yet the bitter loss to bitter rivals Manchester United leaves Liverpool searching for answers against top sides. Having not recorded a win against a club in the top half of the table, Rodgers needs to find his unbiased best starting eleven quickly.

Calling all Liverpool fans: What would you do with Joe Allen? What is his best position? Is there a place for him in the starting XI? Is Rodgers guilty of favouritism towards his big money signing? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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Antony Melvin

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