Amidst the Luis Suarez transfer saga, numerous new signings and exciting young players like Raheem Sterling and Jordan Ibe, there is a player at Anfield who has been forgotten about by some in terms of Brendan Rodgers’ plans next season: Joe Allen.
The 23-year-old signed from Swansea last summer for a fee of £15 million, and it’s fair to say he didn’t justify such a price tag in his debut season at the club.
Much was expected of the Welshman, with Rodgers even, perhaps carelessly, comparing him to Spain and Barcelona legends Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Likening a youngster to players of such calibre raises fans expectations hugely and also heaps an unnecessary amount of pressure on his young shoulders, and there is no doubt that at times Allen struggled with the standards expected of him.
In fairness to him, for the opening couple of months of the campaign he was arguably Liverpool’s best player, winning a number of Man of the Match awards along the way. He was neat and tidy on the ball, did a lot of unnoticed defensive work and never allowed himself to be bullied despite his small frame. It looked like the Merseyside club had purchased a gem of a midfielder, only for his season to fall to pieces from October onwards.
A shoulder injury ruled him out for large parts, and was certainly one of the reasons for Allen’s decline in form, while the birth of his son in late August 2012 may also have been a distraction to him. Many footballers face both of these issues all over the world and still play well, however, so you can’t just make excuses for his poor performances. Suddenly his game lacked an edge and his passing, which is the most reliable aspect of his game, became sloppy in crucial areas of the pitch. He also conceded too many rash challenges in key areas and his belief in himself seemed to completely desert him.
With Steven Gerrard and Lucas the undisputed first-choice pairing in central midfield, and the vastly improved Jordan Henderson occupying a more attacking role ahead of them, Allen’s chances of featuring regularly looked slim until a very promising display in Gerrard’s testimonial on Saturday.
The Wales international got into many attacking positions- another part of his game that was lacking for much of last season- and he was rewarded by scoring the opening goal in his side’s 2-0 victory over Olympiakos. On another day he could’ve scored a hat-trick. It was a performance that will, hopefully, revitalise a player with undoubted ability but one who is yet to prove he can be a key regular at a club as big as Liverpool.
If the 23-year-old can fire this season it will be like a new signing for Rodgers, who has shown so much faith in his former Swansea player since he arrived at Anfield. There is no doubt that he is at his best when deployed in a more offensive role, and he is wasted playing in front of the back four. At Swansea, Leon Britton sat deep and Allen linked to great effect with Gylfi Sigurdsson behind Danny Graham up front, and Allen should be looking at Henderson and believing he can oust him in Liverpool’s strongest starting eleven.
The majority of young British players or new foreign signings are judged on their second season at a big club, and that will certainly be the case with Joe Allen at Liverpool. His shoulder injury has healed, his form is good and this is his chance to win over those unsure of his ability. This season is make or break for him.
How do you think Joe Allen will do in the coming season?