Liverpool: Pass Master Joe Allen Central to New Anfield Era

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Liverpool: Pass Master Joe Allen Central to New Anfield Era
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After a 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion on the opening day of the season brought back the feelings of self-pity which have become all too familiar of late around Liverpool, Sunday's 2-2 draw with Manchester City restored a great deal of optimism among the Anfield supporters.

Although it was only a point earned in the club's first home league under Brendan Rodgers' management, when it would likely have been three were it not for some costly individual errors, there was plenty to praise in the Reds' performance against the champions.

The presence of so many young players in the Liverpool starting XI for such a big match—Raheem Sterling, Sebastian Coates, Martin Kelly, Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, with Jonjo Shelvey coming off the bench after just five minutes for the injured Lucas Leiva—is a very encouraging sign for both the club's present and future.

Kelly may have played a part in gifting City their first goal and Borini is yet to get off the mark in the league for his new club, but they are both set to feature frequently for the club this season and probably beyond.

But the most encouraging performer from that clutch of young players was 22-year-old Allen. The Welshman's summer move to Liverpool from Swansea City may have raised a few eyebrows—mostly because of the £15 million fee the Reds paid for him—but he has quickly shown that he will be central to Rodgers' vision of his overhaul of the team.

Rodgers did not instigate the transformation at Swansea that made them one of the foremost exponents of passing football, not just in Britain, but in Europe. That style was introduced by Roberto Martinez and then perpetuated by Paulo Sousa before Rodgers made it truly effective, to the point where they won promotion to the Premier League last summer and comfortably stayed up.

Allen was a vital part of the midfield upon which that success was based, and he has now brought a skill-set rare among British players to Anfield.

Against City, Allen's passing was exemplary. He only misplaced one pass during a first half that Liverpool deservedly led by the end of. At the end of the game, he had a pass completion rate of 93 percent. In his first two league games as a Liverpool player, Allen has only failed to hit his intended target with a pass a total of six times.

And his range of passing is not all sideways passes back and forth between the players around. In the City game, all five long balls he played across and up the field were collected by the teammate he was aiming for. Even in defeat at West Brom on his league debut, Allen made all 11 of his attempted long passes as he posted a 96 percent completion rate.

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Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and another Reds midfielder, Charlie Adam, are notorious for their fondness of the "Hollywood ball", the over-ambitious attempt to pick out a teammate from range that usually ends either going out of play or gifting possession to the opposition. Allen, by contrast, simply has his long-distance passing in his armoury and uses it when necessary, hence his greater success.

Of course, football is not all about pass completion rates and heat maps despite this being the era of pouring over seemingly infinite reams of data. For example, in the City game defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong also registered a percentage of 93, and few would extol the virtues of his fluid passing game. But when a player's brief is explicitly to keep the ball moving around the team and keep possession, as Allen's is, then such figures are highly relevant.

His sensible and decisive movement both on and off the ball were the perfect example of what Rodgers is trying to achieve at Anfield, but his defensive contribution of three tackles and four interceptions should not be ignored either.

If Rodgers is to be a success on Merseyside then Allen is going to play a huge part in that success. So far, he is more than holding to his end of the bargain.

Match statistics provided by WhoScored.com

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