Sami Faizullah

Analysis: The impact of Lucas’ return on Joe Allen

Sami Faizullah provides an in-depth analysis on how Lucas’ return to injury will impact on the Liverpool midfield, and specifically by allowing Joe Allen to operate slightly further ahead in Brendan Rodgers‘ midfield three.

Tactics

LAST week Lucas Leiva returned to action with the under 21’s following a thigh injury suffered at Anfield against Manchester City in August. It was a set-back for the Brazilian who spent most of last season on the sidelines too. It may still be a week or so before we see the 25 year old in competitive action, but the implications of a return are irrefutable.

Brendan Rodgers’ side has a plethora of midfielders, so much so that he has the liberty to play midfielders at full-back, and full-backs on the wings. However, despite this privilege, Liverpool really have only one defensive midfielder, and that is the former Gremio man.

The man who has had to play as a makeshift defensive player, albeit an effective one, is summer signing Joe Allen. The Welshman had a good start to his Anfield career, but the past few weeks have seen his form deteriorate, the Chelsea game in particular was one which he was highly criticised for. Earlier on in the season, the ball seemed to stick to the 22 year old like magnet. His flaws, however, have been outlined in the past few weeks. Criticised for being too slow on the ball, and giving possession away cheaply.

Joe Allen

Regardless of the recent decline in his form, one cannot deny that Joe Allen has been Liverpool’s best signing of the summer. It comes as no surprise as his exploits last season with Swansea alongside Leon Britton received high praise, which trickled down to his manager as well. Swansea fans feared, and expected, Rodgers to move for Allen sooner or later.

But the praise that the Allen and Britton partnership received (including the honour of being compared to the Xavi-Iniesta partnership), was vastly due to the set up employed by Rodgers at Swansea. Leon Britton sat deep (like Allen at Liverpool) while Joe himself moved further up the pitch in attack, while still maintaining his defensive duties. He was employed as a box-to-box midfielder. This ability to advance further forward and run at defences is something that Liverpool fans are yet to see. As Rodgers said himself last week:

“But you will see his flexibility in how he can play further up the field. He is really dynamic in that middle-to-final third and sometimes you see those little bursts when he breaks through and is exciting.”

Many have said that a good goalscorer is the key to success, while others have outlined the need for a solid defence, personally I feel the midfield third is the most important part of any team, or any tactic.

Lucas Leiva was widely criticised early on in his career, and largely divided the Anfield faithful. It is only in Rafa’s last season and consequently Hodgson’s first that people began to take note. Lucas emerged as a first team regular and a crucial member of the side. He was a maturing player, and the former attacking midfielder was now being considered as an apt replacement for the void filled by the departure of Xabi Alonso (granted the two have different styles).

Before we go further in-depth into Lucas’ role in the team, it would be interesting if we could take a look at Joe Allen’s role currently in the side.

Even though Joe has been playing a deeper role than usual, which restricts him from adventuring forward, he has still maintained a commendable rate of passing. In the 13 Premier League games that Liverpool have played, Joe Allen has started and finished all of them, with an average passing rate of 91.7% (827 successful passes out of 902 attempted ones.

There have been claims that Allen has managed a successful passing rate primarily because most of his passes are backward, sideways and ‘pointless’. Statistics prove that 65% of his passes are played forward. Most of which are short passes, restraining himself from playing a long ball. This of course is characteristic of Rodgers’ style of play which discourages aiming long or “hoofed” balls upfield.

The above image illustrates Joe Allen’s passing game against Norwich where he completed 96% of his passes. His best so far this season. He completed 91 of his 95 attempted passes. As can be seen in the illustration, most of his passing was restricted to the middle of the pitch, rarely did he venture forward.

His defensive contributions too, have been impressive. The below image has been slightly tainted by his dip in form in the past few games, they still show a positive image.

Now if we compare this Joe Allen to the one that impressed viewers last season (based on the stats in this article posted on the official website (http://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/latest-news/joe-allen-the-opta-stats) the similarities are evident.

He had a passing success rate at Swansea of 91.2%, playing an impressive 2177 passes. Also an impressive stat is that he had a passing success rate of 85.5% in the opponents half. He won 74.5% of the tackles he attempted and 54.5% of his duels.

The statistics of the deep lying Joe Allen are in sync with the ‘flexible’ and adventurous Joe Allen of last season.

The potential return of Lucas can do the world of good for Allen, and Rodgers’ can take full advantage of the midfielder’s ability. The aspect that is important in a tiki-taka approach is the confidence and composure to play that same style of football in the attacking third of the pitch. There are improvements, and Suarez has settled into the system well, but the ‘advancement’ of Allen could improve the football further.

With Rodgers playing a 4-3-3, and its variations based on the phase of game and position of players, it is evident that Rodgers will be employing a 3 man midfield. We can identify a couple of options that Rodgers will be looking into for playing his trusted Welshman.

This midfield set-up is, in my opinion, the most likely to be implemented by Brendan Rodgers. It involves playing Lucas Leiva in a deep lying role with his main obligation being a defensive role, putting an end to oppositions attacks, while holding onto the ball to allow the advanced players to move into positions.

Joe Allen will be employed slightly ahead of him playing a more free role. This type of approach will utilise Joe Allen’s work rate and general skill to best effect. The blue box represents Allen’s ‘zone’, he will mainly be covering that area during the course of the game while strutting further forward in attack and dropping deep to assist Lucas and the defence when faced against an attack.

He will also be moving slightly wide but won’t be moving down the flanks. This wide movement is to cover the wide areas when the play is stretched.

The first defensive movement of Allen would be to defend ahead of Lucas rather than beside him, forming a sort of ‘double’ line of defence.

Allen will try to cover attacks in his ‘zone’ before slowly tracking back based on the advancement of the opposition, Lucas will cover Allen attempting to block any attack that penetrates through Allen’s zone.

The yellow lines are merely to provide explanation for the defensive movement, it is pretty clear that Lucas and Allen will track further back as the opposition advance.

In terms of attack, Allen will once again have a fair bit of freedom. For the sake of this article, I have assumed that Gerrard will be the third midfielder, this is the most likely scenario as well.

In an attacking phase as well, Lucas will sit back, allowing Allen to move further upfield to assist Gerrard. You can expect plenty of possession around the box with full-backs advancing forward and occupying the zone between the two blue boxes, pushing the wide men narrower and into the box. The full-backs will be providing the width with runs down the flanks.

Another aspect of Allen’s play seen at Swansea was his ability to take possession and run into the box with the ball. An approach that was characteristic of Steven Gerrard earlier. Gerrard though lacks the legs to move about as much now, while Lucas has to be deployed in a defensive position exclusively. Its Joe Allen, therefore, that has to keep the work rate of the team going, moving all around the pitch, playing as a box-to-box midfielder. He needs to advance forward while still dropping deep effectively.

With regards to his role in terms of dictating the play, Lucas will assume most of these duties, but Allen will still retain the duties of this role, in the attacking third. The movement of the wide men and strikers will be fairly narrow and there will be plenty of opposition defenders around to make it tight and restrict any openings. Allen will play an important role in breaking through this barrier.

The return of Lucas will lift the entire team. The man has played a significant part for the club in the past few seasons. The freedom he provides Joe Allen will show plenty of improvement in the performances and results. This box-to-box role made into one of the most highly rated midfielders in the Premier League. At 22, the former Swansea midfielder has his entire career ahead of him. The impact of Lucas’ return will take Allen to newer heights, and a new level of football, which will have its own impact on the fortunes of Liverpool Football Club.

Graphs and stats via squawka.com, tactical illustrations made at footballtactics.net.

A lifelong Liverpool fan, obsessed with tactics. Studying in the Commerce field (apparently). Living in a country where more people have heard of Parthiv Patel rather than Luis Suarez. You can check out my football blog here.
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  • glpunk

    Lucas + Allen will be like or even better than Masch + Alonso … hopefully Gerrard Get more offesive Roll (we need it)

    • Real Red

      Don’t be silly

  • steve martin

    I don’t know where you get your stats from mate, but the games I’ve watched Allen in he seems to make 95% pointless passes – or panic passes. But to be fair I thought he was great when he first arrived. But now, well to be honest, he’s just getting in Gerrard’s way and annoying everyone.

    But something is really concerning me recently. We’re all waiting for Lucas to return as if that will solve every thing. I thought Rodgers philosophy was about the team playing together in a certain style, not replying on one or two players. But here we are reliant on Suarez, waiting for Lucas and hoping Gerrard doesn’t get too pissed off in his new role.

    • eskimo

      If you dont understand statistics dont respond

    • BlackAna

      Lucas is the only true defensive midfielder have on our team at the moment. So it is not that we are waiting for him to solve everything, but that we need someone who is effective at what they do there instead of trying to squeeze square pegs in round holes in an attempt to accommodate for this deficiency like we have been doing ever since his injury.

  • ianmcd31

    i was kinda hoping the impact of Lucas would be dropping Allen to the bench. Allen had a great start, but needs competition and possibly the odd break by the look of his recent abject performances.

    • Captain Sensible

      Allen is playing outside of his normal comfort zone to help the team you idiot, he will be better in his proper role, Gerrard has not been playing his best either for the same reason. Are you a fan or a critic? Do you actually follow the games or just match of the day? Why not drop Gerrard? Because of his past reputation? You pick your best players because they can play anywhere when required. Ideally you play your best players in their natural position but that is not possible right now. You will see a different team in two to three weeks when the balance is corrected with Lucas return. Try and keep up, you might be surprised!

      • Seven7

        I agree with you, Captain. Gerrard is not the player he used to be and has been a bit of a liability lately. In a few games, he looked lethargic and gave away possession in dangerous areas. I honestly don’t think Gerrard has adapted as well as BR would have liked to the tiki-taka football that BR wants the team to play. I hate to say it but maybe, Gerrard is not made for tiki-taka. In that perspective, Allen has been a great buy. Even playing out of position, it’s clear to see his qualities. At some point, I do hope BR would field a midfield 3 of Lucas, Allen and Sahin, who had a great start but sort of fizzled of late. Both Allen and Sahin have great off the ball movement and anticipation.

      • ianmcd31

        i see Rogers has come out and said Allen needs a break. I wouldn’t be so self confident to call people an ‘idiot’, as you can quite swiftly come across as one yourself. Maybe if you kept up yourself and watched the games you’d notice dips in performance and who needs a break. i have a new name for you, Captain Ignoramus :).

  • sideshow_bob

    I’m sure I read BR saying that Joe’s dip in form was a result of a lack of sleep after becoming a father for the first time! It’s clear that Joe hasn’t been as effective in recent games as he was at the beginning of the season, but why write him off altogether? I have seen enough to know that, especially given his age, he can be a very good player for us. At the moment the lack of assists, goals etc is not a major concern for me because I see him more as a replacement for Mascherano than Xabi Alonso (although I think one or two might be surprised to see Xabi’s assist and goal tally for us). In fact, I think he can be better than Mascherano in some ways. He’s not as quick as Mascherano, but he has shown that he is developing Mascherano’s great strength of patrolling the back four and stealing the ball when attackers least expect it. What he is better at than Mascherano, though, is with the ball at his feet and dictating the play. When Xabi left and Aquallani was struggling Mascherano was never really able to step into that role as the deeper lying playmaker and our play never quite ticked over in same fluid way again under Rafa. Don’t get me wrong it has been scarce, but there has been times this season, such as spells against City when we have come close to that fluidity again and that was certainly a result of Joe Allen. So for me, I’d be happy to see Joe remain the deepest of three, but if the manger moves Joe to the second of the three or the “Xabi Alonso” role, I think critics will be right to expect more from him and he will have to start producing a few goals and assists.

    • Ross

      ‘I think he can be better than Mascherano’ – I hate to be a kill joy but Allen will never be anywhere near the same league as Mascherano, or Alonso come to think of it. Allen is just an average mid table player, nothing more, nothing less.

      • Kirk Dale

        And to call Lucas average would be complimenting the guy . He is shite

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=841830174 Steven Richardson

    I hate when an analysis gets mixed in with a bias. Facts are being thrown in a perspective that doesn’t exist to prove something that may not be true.

    Allen passes forwards a lot TECHNICALLY, but of course he does, he plays so far back it’s hard not to. Where he is playing it says something about how we’ve played the game this season that a full THIRD of his passes aren’t forwards!
    Not to mention how many of them are a little forwards but really are passes to the side that just happen to go a little forwards.

    Note – Not criticising Allen, only this article.

  • Redblooded Male

    “one cannot deny that Joe Allen has been Liverpool’s best signing of the summer”
    Erm……. That’s not hard, Assaidi doesn’t get a look in & Borini’s been out for 6 weeks/a third of the season so far. I want to love him but i’m totally underwhelmed so far. £14m, really BR?

    • Captain Sensible

      Another imbecile!

      • Allen bloody Allen

        Totally agree with Redblooded Male. Allen is keeping players like Suso and Sahin on the bench when both of them have much greater technical ability than Allen. He is very frustrating to watch

  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.costello.5458 Joseph Costello

    Cannot say i am overly impressed with BR`s 3 signings , all 3 are
    very liteweight .

    • Captain Sensible

      Imbecile! @Joseph Costello

    • eskimo

      let’s give borini a fair amount of time to make an impact will we?

  • The Talent

    Let’s try to remain positive as this article just outlines the effectiveness Lucas’s inclusion in the team will have on Allens play and that I can respect. I for one am dying to see the full effect of Joe Allen cause all the Xavi comparisons by Rodgers and now Joe himself has me waiting in anticipation. One thing to remember is that the inclusion of Lucas and Allen in the same starting 11 will not bring instant results and fluidity. When West Brom thumped us 3-0 the two of them were part of that midfield combo. I do feel too little is being done by Rodgers when it comes to focusing on defensive recruitments and we miss those players and notice what they bring to the team when they not there. Its time to get another defensive midfielder that ticks the right boxes and groom him in the Lukas role to pre-emt such a void in the team if another injury comes knocking. Let me end off by saying that I’m no Joe Allen fan but whatever can be done to improve Allen’s so called effectiveness then I’m willing to to give it a go as it can only be positive for Liverpool.

  • phays

    great article, sami. i hope we have a chance to see the lucas-gerrard-allen midfield on saturday. ynwa.

  • j75j

    Or how about Lucas playing in the advanced roll like he did in Brazil where he made his name as the box to box midfielder? 5 years of Premier League football, now wasn’t ready for it when he first arrived so Rafa taught him from the back to learn how to be a midfield player in the Premier League.
    Rodgers style will suit Lucas more in attacking role with the team moving forward unlike under Rafa when we played mainly on the break.
    Rodgers also said that Allen has recently become a father which might explain the drop off in performance.

  • Frank Lucas

    I Love Lucas for his mentality more than anything else, He’s clearly been sorely missed but the over reliance on him is concerning. What if he gets injured again? I would like to see Allen kept in his most influential position and see another player groomed to cover Lucas, I think Henderson could do the job or Coady maybe? if not I would like to see this problem addressed sooner than later.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Chri5mitH ChriS SmiTH

    dont see that Allen, an average EPL player, is someone that we need to “back up”, hes not that quality, Lucas if fit, walks into midfield, Allen isn;t much better than Henderson, or Adam (sold) .. Lucas will do more for Stevies game, and the 3rd spot ? an arguement as much for Hendo or Shelvey as Allen …shows the decline in targets (& FSG “managing expectations”) & hypocrisy after breaking Kenny’s contract to be replaced by another (like Hodgson) who has NO qualifications to manage a club of our history & demands..

  • http://twitter.com/IanKnowlson Ian Knowlson

    Great article again Sami

    • http://twitter.com/SamiFaizullah Sami Faizullah

      Thanks Ian:)

  • http://twitter.com/SamiFaizullah Sami Faizullah

    Thanks for all the comments guy. Wasn’t able to join in the discussion, but Lucas is back now, and it will take time but things will look up for the club now. Hopefully.

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  • http://twitter.com/seanyw11 seanyw

    with bryan robson fading out, kids took over… and that was when the scums started to dominate for more than a decade.

    possibly Stevie G’s turn to step aside and play a lesser role if the team is moving on to a new stage? Allen, Leiva and Shelvey would be a promising trio for years to come.

  • Ross

    I love how we Liverpool fans welcome new signings with such faith and optimism. However, sometimes it blinds a lot of people to the realities of a players quality. The brutal truth is, Allen is just another average player, nothing more. Having him in the team makes Liverpool no stronger than if Henderson was in the team.

    You can throw statistics around all you like to try and make your point more reasonable but look what happened when the previous management judged players the same way in the so called ‘statistical buying approach’ – we ended up with players like Downing for 20m, money down the drain and the laughing stock of Football.

    Allen is not a midfield general like Gerrard, he is not a great tackler like Masch or a great passer like Alonso. You can batter people with statistics all day long but the truth won’t change and deep down anybody who watches Liverpool on a regular basis knows that players like Allen will not put Liverpool back in the top four.

  • Pope Benedict XVI

    The impact of Lucas coming back should be that Allen gets dropped.