On March 20th, Liverpool FC announced that Welsh midfielder Joe Allen would miss the rest of the 2012/13 campaign after he underwent surgery on his left shoulder. To some cynical LFC fans, this surgery was a blessing in disguise–the much-maligned Welshman’s performances of late have been incredibly inconsistent, and despite Brendan Rodgers’ staunch public defence of Allen, who came with the new Liverpool manager from Swansea to Anfield last summer, Allen has not won many supporters during his first season on Merseyside. However, as a Liverpool fan I have a policy of always supporting players, regardless of their form. While this does not mean that I don’t prefer Jordan Henderson over Allen in the center of the park, it does mean that I am willing to defend him against his critics.
Joe Allen was an integral part of Swansea City AFC’s pass-and-move style of 2011/12, and won many plaudits as a key part of the Welsh club’s midfield. When Rodgers brought his former player to Liverpool as a part of his “Anfield Revolution” for around £15 million during the summer 2012 transfer window, the Northern Irish manager infamously called Allen “the Welsh Xavi.” Obviously, the Welshman is nowhere near the quality of the legendary Spanish playmaker, but Allen did have a very good year at the Liberty Stadium during 2011/12. His 91% pass accuracy was nothing short of immaculate, and was the second best among midfielders who attempted over 1500 passes–Swansea teammate Leon Britton edged him with 93%. One of Allen’s best games in the Swansea shirt was a master class at the Liberty against Newcastle, in which he completed 118 of 123 attempted passes. In addition, his 84% final third pass accuracy is up there with the best in the league, especially for a deeper-lying midfielder. However, a valid criticism of Allen’s 2011/12 campaign was the amount of his passes that went backwards. His 24% is higher than most of his midfield competitors like Manchester United’s Michael Carrick (10%) and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta (13%). In addition, Allen only attempted 8 through balls during the entire season, an indication that he was not the creative hub of that Swansea side. This is further reflected in his lack of chances created, creating a chance every 63 minutes, which doesn’t compare at all to other playmakers in the league. However, Allen was generally quite good in possession, losing the ball once every 8 minutes. League-best for midfielders Leon Britton lost the ball every 12 minutes, and Allen is nearly equal with standouts Carrick and Tottenham’s Scott Parker, who lost the ball every 8 and 9 minutes, respectively.
On the other side of the ball, Allen was extremely impressive defensively. His 110 tackles were bested only by Fulham man Mousa Dembélé’s 112 and Yohan Cabaye of Newcastle’s 117. In addition, Allen matched this incredible quantity of tackles with consistency, winning 75% of these tackles. This is superior to most of his midfield competitors, winning more tackles than Carrick (68%), Scott Parker (70%), and Joey Barton (70%), though he fell a bit short of Marouane Fellaini of Everton’s league-leading for midfielders 84%. Joe Allen’s aerial ability is not one of his strong suits, however, winning just 18% of his aerial duels. He also did not enter these aerial 50-50s very often, attempting just 17 throughout the whole season. All-in-all, Allen had a very solid season for Swansea, punctuated by his incredible pass accuracy and tackle success rate. It is quite obvious why Brendan Rodgers wanted to make him a part of his Liverpool squad.
With the amount of criticism that Joe Allen has taken this season from both Liverpool fans and non-LFC supporters alike, it should be evident in the statistics that the Welshman has suffered an extreme drop in form this season. The statistics, however, say that Allen’s ability has not dropped in comparison to last season, and form the basis for my argument that Joe Allen has been unfairly maligned this season. During the first few games of the season, Allen was actually one of Liverpool’s brightest performers and won a few Man of the Match awards, namely on the first day of the season against West Brom and at Anfield against Arsenal. Since then, however, many have jumped on the anti-Allen train and bashed him as a scapegoat for Liverpool’s streaky performances this season.
Let’s start with passing and possession. 91% of open play passes completed is a high mark to live up to, but Allen has nearly done it. His 90% pass accuracy is almost exactly the same as last season, and he has also cut his backpass rate in half, passing backwards only 12% this season, compared to 24% last year. In addition, his 81% final third accuracy, though lower than the 85% that he achieved in 2011/12 with Swansea City, is up there with the likes of David Silva (80%) and Santi Cazorla (82%). One might argue that Cazorla and Silva are playing more attacking passes. However, both Cazorla (15%) and Silva (16%) play a larger proportion of their passes backwards than Allen (12%) does. Thus, Allen’s passing ability has not decreased in this supposed “drop in form.” Neither has his ability to retain possession, as it turns out. The Welshman loses possession every 9 minutes, better than his rate of once every 8 minutes last season and matching Mikel Arteta’s rate of once per 8 minutes, and even bettering Michael Carrick’s once every 7 minutes.
So, if Allen’s ability to retain possession and passing ability haven’t decayed, surely his tackling ability is the attribute that has suffered? The short answer: yes. His tackle success rate of 65% this year is much lower than his 75% with Swansea City, and he is also attempting a tackle every 36 minutes, much less frequently than his rate of one tackle every 26 minutes last season. This extreme drop in tackle frequency and in tackle success rate can be explained with the presence of a certain Lucas Leiva, a CDM that takes most of the defensive responsibilities in Liverpool’s midfield, thus freeing Steven Gerrard and his other midfield partner (Allen) to be in a more attacking role. Thus, Lucas rids Allen of some defensive responsibility, and as a result the Welshman’s decreased tackle success rate shouldn’t have much of an impact on his overall contribution to Liverpool. Allen’s aerial duel win percentage has increased drastically from the dismal 18% of his Swansea City days to a much more respectable 38%. This is especially impressive when one considers the fact that Joe Allen is only 1.68 m. tall.
I hope that this article has made sufficiently clear my point of view on Joe Allen–he does NOT deserve the lambasting that he’s received in the press and among Liverpool fans this season. Liverpool essentially got what they paid for–he can pass the ball extremely well, and can win possession back, as well. I believe that much of the criticism that has been directed towards the Welshman this year has come as a result of a few poor performances that stick out in the minds of Liverpool fans–the Manchester United game at Old Trafford, for one. This unfortunate series of a few mediocre performances has somehow convinced many that Joe Allen is not worthy of the LFC shirt. I encourage these doubters and naysayers to have a look at the statistics I have presented in this article and then try to tell me that Allen has been poor this season. He hasn’t. I also encourage all readers to remember that Allen is only 23 years old. He has many years of football ahead of him, years that will bring more EPL experience, help him to eliminate the mistakes that plague his game, and hopefully turn him into a top midfielder. This will ONLY happen, however, if we get behind our man. Do not underestimate the impact of public support on a player’s mentality.
Lay off little Joe! He will come back after the surgery better and stronger next season, and I hope that everybody will recognize his ability, and that he will win over the hearts of Liverpool supporters everywhere.
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