A dominant, intelligent performance from Joe Allen in the centre of midfield spurred Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Manchester City on Sunday, writes Jack Lusby.
Brendan Rodgers can be happy with every one of his players for the way in which they responded to defeat in the Europa League at Besiktas on Thursday night, with solid performances across the board, from Simon Mignolet in goal to Raheem Sterling up front.
Coutinho rightly deserved the man-of-the-match award, but unlikely hero Joe Allen ran him a close second with a masterful midfield display.
Understanding of Space
Lining up against David Silva, one of the most perceptive footballers in Europe, Allen had to be on his toes throughout Sunday’s clash—thankfully, in the midfielder, Liverpool have an intelligent player, who understands the value of space.
Off the ball, this was evidenced by Silva’s increasingly peripheral role in the game.
Allen harried the Spaniard throughout, ensuring he didn’t enjoy the space that Coutinho did at the opposite end—although this wasn’t without its foibles in the first half.
Silva played a big part in Dzeko’s first-half equaliser, and Allen can be blamed for losing the midfielder at this point.
However, particularly in the second half, his attention to the City playmaker was noticeable, and Silva suffered as a result:
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) March 1, 2015
Furthermore, on the ball, Allen continued to show this intelligence.
With Pellegrini deploying his usual two-man midfield of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, City looked to dominant the central areas, aided by Silva and Samir Nasri, who also operated inside.
This meant that when on the ball, Liverpool needed to remain front-footed, and Allen was the perfect example of this, with a series of deft touches, dribbles and a remarkable close ball control to get himself out of trouble.
Furthermore, when in possession—which he was often, with his 5.7 percent second only to Henderson in the Liverpool side—Allen was sharp in offloading the ball.
Joe Allen made the second most passes (57) of any Liverpool player today, with the second highest passing accuracy (87.7%). #LFC
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) March 1, 2015
The midfielder kept things simple, finding his teammates in space and often contributed to swift attacking moves.
Revisiting Yaya Toure’s Toughest Game
After Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at home to City in the 2012/13 season, Toure famously described draw as the “hardest game I’ve played in since I’ve been in England,” after two years with the Citizens in the Premier League.
The main factor in this was an on-form Allen, who had just joined the Reds from Swansea City.
During that game, Allen gave Toure no space to negotiate in the midfield, employing the energetic, effective defensive game that made him such a must-sign for Rodgers.
There would be no surprises if Toure reprised this appraisal after Sunday’s Liverpool win—Allen once more ran the gauntlet, and Toure suffered.
This was largely due to the effective tandem of Allen and Henderson, with the latter perhaps finally finding a kindred spirit in central midfield in terms of work rate and efficiency, after experiments—to varying degrees of success—alongside Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard.
Despite seeing 7.6 percent of the overall possession on the day—the highest amount of any player—Toure completed just 75.6 percent of his attempted passes.
Allen and Henderson starved him of time on the ball and, as with Silva, reduced his potency as a result—only once did Toure make a genuinely dangerous foray into the Liverpool box.
As they were effective in the latter stages of the previous league win over Southampton, Allen and Henderson supplied a considerable, hard-working defensive shield—Henderson has found a defensive-minded midfielder he can trust in Lucas’ absence.
A New Breed of Defensive Midfielder?
With Lucas limited to his tough-tackling physical prowess and respectable discipline, and Gerrard far from capable of performing the role due to a waning stamina, Allen has provided an interesting new prospect in the defensive midfield role.
Rodgers astutely outlined Allen’s talents during an injury layoff earlier this season:
“Joe is a player who never gets mentioned but he’s a player who rarely turns over the ball. He loves the football and gets other people playing. The key feature for Joe on top of that is the intensity in his pressure. He presses the game very well. He’s a very intelligent footballer. Tactically, he’s outstanding.”
The key feature in this appraisal is Allen’s intelligence; while it helps in the defensive midfield role, physical strength clearly isn’t everything.
Allen’s understanding of space, his timing of the challenge and his thirst for possession make him an ideal anchor in this Liverpool system, and a growing partnership with Henderson points to a bright future in Rodgers’ 3-4-2-1.
Allen has proven that brains can trump brawn in this role, and with Lucas out injured his rise is central to Liverpool’s chances in the race for a top-four finish.
Struggling with injuries of his own this season, Joe Allen needs to build on this performance, find consistency and make the position his own.
Statistics via WhoScored.
Did Joe Allen prove he can perform as Liverpool’s defensive midfielder on Sunday? Let us know in the comments below.