Recently we discussed if Joe Allen’s first season at Liverpool showcased whether or not the Welshman was over- or underrated, but now that that season is over, there must be another question haunting the midfielder.
Shoulder surgery will keep Allen out for the remainder of the campaign, and gives a clear run at the team for the one player who he is now seemingly competing with for a frequent starting berth―the increasingly impressive Jordan Henderson.
With Brendan Rodgers opting to field an extra midfielder in the recent win at Aston Villa―a match which saw Daniel Sturridge dropped to the bench as the Reds boss sought to dominate Villa’s young guns in the centre of the park―Allen would have been in firm contention for a start had he been fit.
Instead it was Henderson who stepped in for his first start since the loss to West Brom in February, responding with a fine performance and the equalising goal to further impress the many supporters who have grown to take a shine to him.
With the ex-Sunderland man now presumably the first-choice extra midfielder should Rodgers choose to field this system, and Sturridge of course the additional forward in the alternative one, then it will leave Allen to ponder just where he stands.
Right now he stands on the sidelines due to injury, and although it is far too early to suggest that the Welshman will join the sorry but lengthy list of players who have failed in their first season at Anfield and then been swiftly moved on, he might just find it tough to get back into the team when the new campaign rolls around in the summer.
With Liverpool potentially looking at a season which won’t feature the extra fixtures that European football brings, then Allen and others like him might find it tough to break into Rodgers’ plans for Premier League games.
Of course, the midfielder has an advantage in his battle to break back into the side. Rodgers is a huge fan of his.
A key element in the Northern Irishman’s Swansea City side which first earned promotion to the top-flight and then impressively established themselves in it, Allen still maintains the goodwill of the manager and embodies many of the characteristics that he wants to see throughout his team.
The ability to chop and change your formation to suit the fixture in front of you is one of the key characteristics of modern football and the modern manager―something that Rodgers showed at Villa Park―and so Allen is sure to get his chances throughout the campaign, but whether or not he’ll be turned to in the bigger games is up for debate.
With Lucas Leiva’s position in the side secure―although the scope for bringing in specialist backup for him is certainly there―and Steven Gerrard no doubt geared up for another campaign in which he’ll hope to play in every minute of every league game again, two positions in Rodgers’ Liverpool midfield are filled.
The promise of Philippe Coutinho means that a place in the team needs to be found for the Brazilian more often than not, either in midfield or as part of the attack, and then when Henderson plays as well as he has been doing for the majority of the season, Allen is left looking like the odd man out.
He still retains enormous promise, and is perhaps paying the price for a first half of his first season in which he filled in for the injured Lucas in a position which isn’t overly familiar to him, and so Allen shouldn’t be written off at all.
If anything, this battle for a place in the team should inspire him to do better, to follow Henderson’s example and impress in his second season at the club.
He’s going to need to do well, because he faces a tough fight to get back into the team.