Amidst the energy, the pace and the sheer relentlessness on show from the likes of Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez throughout Liverpool’s stunning 5-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Sunday, one man was simply happy to set the stage.
The diminutive Welshman was a towering influence on a match in which Liverpool’s teamwork was always going to have the edge over the collection of individuals in Tottenham shirts, and although the tireless, selfless Henderson was the embodiment of that, Allen wasn’t far behind.
There is an increasingly attended school of thought which suggests that the Reds function better without the influence of the iconic but ageing Gerrard in their midfield, with his absence allowing for Lucas Leiva to control, Allen to probe and Henderson to charge anywhere and everywhere in pursuit of goals and assists.
Last season such an absence wasn’t an issue, with Gerrard playing every minute of every league game up until he exited the action 18 minutes from time in the 6-0 win at Newcastle three games from the end of the campaign.
Allen was injured by then too of course, but earlier in 2012/13 it had been Lucas who was the missing man, forcing Liverpool’s Welsh international into the deeper lying midfield role.
It was a position which ensured that his transition into life as a big-money Anfield signing wasn’t an easy one, as he was asked to take up a role in the team which didn’t make use of the talents he’d regularly displayed as the more advanced of the two central midfielders at Swansea. Suddenly he was forced to be his team’s Leon Britton and not his team’s Joe Allen.
With Lucas as the anchor such an issue doesn’t occur, and although the Brazilian was rested for the recent home matches against Norwich and West Ham as Allen stepped up his match fitness, he returned to the starting line-up at Spurs to devastating effect.
His mere presence allows Allen to express himself much more, and he’s certainly been doing that.
The website WhoScored.com notes Allen’s passing success rate as 89%, 92% and 90% in the last three games culminating in the Spurs win, when none of Allen, Lucas and Henderson dipped below nine successful passes out of 10.
The same source shows that Allen’s eight tackles ratio at White Hart Lane was more than double the highest amount made by any of his teammates (Sterling and fellow goalscorer Jon Flanagan produced three each) and shows that Liverpool’s No. 24 can influence the game in ways that perhaps go unseen by the naked eye.
It is interesting to note that Lucas―a regular at the top of those “most tackles” stats every season, and a man who once made more challenges in a match than Queens Park Rangers (@OptaJoe)―was only required to tackle once at White Hart Lane (WhoScored.com).
This is obviously down to a combination of Liverpool’s dominance in that area and the fact that Lucas’s Brazil teammate Paulinho was dismissed with half an hour still to play, but it also shows that with Allen alongside him Liverpool’s regular defensive midfielder can focus on recycling possession and getting the Reds’ attacks going again.
They were certainly going strong on Sunday, and in this form they might only get better. Whatever happens, Allen looks as though he’s going to be a key part of things.
Perhaps more so than the absence of Gerrard, it is the absence of Daniel Sturridge through injury which seems to be benefiting the former Swansea man.
Admittedly the reborn Sterling takes the honours in this discussion, but the presence of an extra man in midfield has been terrific for Allen, who must finally feel as though he’s being allowed to express himself.
Just what happens when Gerrard comes back remains to be seen, but for surely the first time in the captain’s Liverpool career, fans aren’t crossing off dates on the calendar and counting down the hours until his return.