19 Sept 2014

[Guest Post] Underrated? Is 'outstanding' £20m star the right man to replace Gerrard at DM?

Like Glen Johnson, and Lucas Leiva, Liverpool star Joe Allen is one of the most polarising players in Brendan Rodgers' squad. At first glance, the 'outstanding' midfielder doesn't appear to anything specific to the team, but according to site regular, Adam Griffin, £20m-rated Allen is a valuable player for LFC, and he could have an important role to play this season.

First, the stats: (From last season)

* Allen effects 3.5 tackles per 90 minutes. This is far and away the best in the team.

* His closest midfield team rival is Lucas, but Lucas commits more than 2 fouls per 90 while Allen is only slightly more than 1 foul per 90.

* The only other PL midfielder who beat Allen's tackle rate last season was Yacob from West Brom.

* Ramsey is a worthwhile comparison at 3.3 tackles per 90. However in the top 10 Allen has best tackle success rate at 56%.

* Of that top 10 Allen also commits the lowest number of fouls. He tops a number of players like Wanyama, Dembele, Schneiderlin and Jedinak (included for the Aussie supporters) in all those categories.

Liverpool led the league last season in tackles per game, and Allen is clearly a big reason why. He won many of these tackles at the head of midfield, not just in defence, and it's even more impressive given the fact he often played ahead of Jordan Henderson, and was rarely utilised as a dedicated holding midfield.

Liverpool scored more goals on the counter than any other team last season and if Allen is the guy winning the ball in the forward half of the pitch then he will have had a hand in many of them. Unfortunately there is no stat for "won possession that led to a goal", at least not that I know of, but I'm guessing Allen would be up there among the best.

However it would seem that where Allen falls short is as a passing midfielder. He's well down the list when it comes to passes per 90 minutes, and he's falls short of the figures achieved by Coutinho, Henderson, Gerrard and even Lucas.

Lucas is actually the statistical leader for Liverpool in this instance, effecting 60 passes per 90 at 91% accuracy. Lucas played plenty of minutes too, so it's not just a statistical anomaly. That said, his very low key passes per game reveals that most of these passes are probably in the defensive half.

Allen is, however, the team leader when it comes to pressing and winning the ball, and these are admirable attributes. Some of us really enjoy the high-energy pressing game that Liverpool implement and hence we probably rate Allen as a more important player because of that.

On the other hand, he passes the ball about 15 times a game less than Gerrard and it's unlikely that he's making those passes in the forward third, so he can easily start to seem anonymous when it comes to actual creative, attacking football. Allen also doesn't assist/score goals, so if you don't really appreciate his pressing and tackling then it might seem as if he's got very little to offer.

What this all suggests to me is that Allen is Liverpool's obvious choice to play in the holding midfield role. He only made one defensive error last season so he's safe on the ball; he knows how to tackle/break up play, and doesn't commit a lot of fouls. He'd even see a bit more of the ball while leaving the creative stuff to the midfielders in front of him, most likely Henderson, Coutinho and Lallana.

Allen's short passing game could work well to put those guys into good positions to move the ball forward, and he wouldn't need to play long Hollywood passes that Stevie can sometimes get wrong. He tracks players well, is surprisingly mobile and obviously willing to work hard for the team, so if Liverpool are looking for someone to take the load away from Gerrard this season, perhaps Allen should be given that job...?



  1. Wonderfull article Adam! I've been defending Allen for over 2 years now, and it's nice to see people sharing the same view, highlighting it with well researched stats and facts :-)

  2. I quite like him on the left of the diamond, hendo in the right and gerrard holding. Solid midfield the balance in the team is brilliant especially with sterling at the peak of it. I didn't rate Allen but he's changed my opinion of him I think were missing him at the minute

  3. I like the combo of Hendo, Sterling and Allen, they all move the ball quickly. Past few games, it's been labored, reminds me of earlier seasons. If Coutinho can find his pre season form, then that is a deadly mix IMHO.

  4. Great article Adam. It's a really interesting (and bold) move to say that he could replace Gerrard and I think it could work pretty well as long as we don't but somebody in the mould of Kramer.
    We are really missing Allen's pressing and must play in the Merseyside derby. If not then let him get some fitness back against Middlesborough.

  5. According to BR, Allen is out for another three weeks, so he'll miss the Everton game.

  6. It's good to read a positive article on Allen for a change. I'm actually part of the small minority who also acknowledges his work rate and the energy he brings to the midfield.

    I really hope Sturridge and Allen will be back soon and we can get come consistency again

  7. I appreciate the statistical angle this article has taken, but I think some of it is misguided.

    Proof of efficacy in certain areas whilst playing a position does not guarantee the same effectiveness in those areas when playing in a different position. Winning tackles and interceptions from defensive mids and other defensive players (who generally speaking have less technical skill) is easier when your team pushes high up the pitch as a whole unit than it would be for Allen as a lone defensive mid up against skilful players like Silva or even the likes of Tadic. Equally, saying he doesn't commit a lot of defensive errors when he tends to play further up the pitch than Gerrard and doesn't mark on set-pieces because of his stature isn't a particularly useful stat, in my opinion.

    Barring when he first came, when he was excellent in the deep lying role for 6 or so games, Allen hasn't looked especially good when played deeper. Despite your contention, I don't think he tracks runners well. As a matter of fact, I don't think any of our DMs do a good job of that fundamental task, Lucas was reliable but made a hash of it on the opening day against Southampton.

    Also, he often dawdles on the ball. His calm in possession and under challenges is one of his best attributes, but when he plays deeper there always seems to be at least one moment when he either gets muscled off the ball or just holds on to it for too long.

    To be honest, I think he is a square peg in the defensive midfield position. He lacks the physicality to impose himself through either strength or sheer mobility. He can't orchestrate play from deep like Gerrard because he doesn't have the range of passing (his short passing is generally impeccable though). He doesn't have the tactical brain to be an effective defensive midfield option.

    I like Allen. He's exactly the kind of player you need in your squad if you want to challenge for the higher places. I think he can play DM at a stretch, but I wouldn't be comfortable with him playing there against a lot of teams or for any extended period of time. I think he offers a more conservative alternative to Lallana/Coutinho which is particularly useful in the big games and away from home. He, like Hendo, is great for establishing the tone of relentless pressing and forcing the opposition to play at the pace we dictate. I also think he can provide good cover to Henderson.

  8. At last people are realising the importance of Allen and Lucas trust me Gerrard is the weak link that's why our defense keeps conceding Lovren Skrtel sakho and even agger were and are class... To be fair since mascherano and Alonso we never got replacements drop Gerrard bring him on as super sub play Lucas or can in his position and forget the long balls

  9. In my opinion, Allen won't be able to hold down the role by himself. He's not big enough and he's not physical enough to control it alone.

    With a partner back with him, he can succeed. But by himself, I'm afraid he's doomed to fail.

    In my opinion, his role is better suited as a pivot, someone who will play the center of field, pressing the opposing defense to get the ball back and distributing to the wings.

  10. Good article Adam. The 'Allen does nothing' brigade do not realise how much work this player puts in. Gerrard as the pivot with Allen and Hendo ahead of Stevie is our best midfield 3 combination. I have said it on many occasions, those who expect goals and or assists from Allen are going to wait for better days. clearly that is not his purpose in the team.

    Emre Can would be my pick to sit in for Gerrard. He can pass, is a brick wall, has pace and vision which is one of the most important things when it comes to a single pivot. Pity both Allen and Can are injured.

  11. Good reading a well prepared story and well researched but all in all i would have to say the one thing the club lacks is a specialist defensive mid.
    Allen would be ok in certain games to hold down that role but in my opinion only generally against weaker opposition.

  12. Terry McDermotts perm7:54 pm, September 19, 2014

    Not sure he's the replacement for Gerrard but I would be interested to see what would happen to the team if stevie didn't play for a couple of games.

  13. Your 5th paragraph pretty much nails it. I doubt very much
    that Allen possesses either the power or athleticism to be a success in the DM
    position and he certainly lacks Gerrard's all round influence, but I do believe
    he is a versatile and oft undervalued member of the squad. His energy and his
    talent for swift, accurate passing (and the occasional cheeky dive!) is
    tailored for a role further up the field, retaining and recycling the ball to
    keep pressure on the opposition, and this is where he has always appeared most effective.
    That said, he's the kind of player who might make a decent (if not spectacular)
    fist of whatever role he's asked to play.

  14. Really good article Adam. Really think we're missing Allen at the moment

  15. Good article Adam.I would try Joe Allen or Emre can when fit as a holding midfielder.Steven Gerrard is starting games on reputation.When he plays as a DM it leaves the door open for the opposition to get at our backline.
    The lightweight drum has been banged.I don't think you need a heavyweight frame to protect the back four.Allen puts himself about and has more than enough fight in his locker to do well.
    Liverpool can shield the backline with energy, improved pressing and snappy tackling.Allen would break things up and play simple passes.
    The high-energy pressing combination of Joe Allen and Henderson will breathe new life into our midfield which will help us defensively.
    Something needs to change.Our strikeforce won't be able to shoot us into the top four if we concede another 50 goals this season.

  16. I've always believed that if Lucas didn't have those taxing back to back injuries, and we had a manager with balls, Gerrard would be struggling to get into the team big time. Lucas under Dalglish would be the best man to replace Gerrard right now. Unfortunately, Lucas has regressed as a player.

    Instead, we have Gerrard being shoe-horned into the team. I've argued what Adam argues, that Allen is worth another shot playing the deepest midfielder. It would totally change our team dynamic because Allen looks for short passes while Gerrard in his glorified half back role looks to play 60 yard balls.

    It's not going to happen this season though, or possibly even next. Rodgers holds Gerrard up as a deity and he will play 90 minutes in most games, he will surely play 90 against West Ham tonight so that's 3 full games in a week. By the time Gerrard is gone, we would be better off just making a new signing.

  17. lallana this far has been ineffective in the starting 11

  18. before the season BR said gerrard would not start every game. but he's not gonna drop him is he ?

  19. It occurred to me that part of what Rodgers is fighting is the loss not just of a quality player as Gerrard declines, but the knock-on effect that has on how other teams psychologically view the club. Liverpool has been relying on Stevie G for a solid 10 years now and to demote a player like that would have an impact, a kind of loss in stature. The moment he is dropped to the bench is an admission that he's no longer the player he once was and it takes away a bit of a fear factor. While he's still starting most games Rodgers can at least pretend that Gerrard is still a world class midfield boss that other teams should fear, regardless of how his actual performances decline. But as soon as he drops him it will be a flurry of questions from the media and articles about how Gerrard's reign is over. It will no longer be deniable and Liverpool will be a team less feared because of it. I think Rodgers wants to delay that as long as possible.

  20. I agree with most of that. Allen does what he does at the head of midfield, not in a holding role. It doesn't automatically translate that he could control the team well from the back and there is no question that Gerrard is still a better option going forward. Allen would need to boss the game and dictate play and it's not clear that he's capable of doing that. And no question that being able to make tackles on defenders under pressure from a high press is different from trying to dispossess quality attackers running at him at pace. It would be a different role entirely and I'm not 100% sure he could do it, I just think he has the right skill set to try.

    What I don't agree with is the physicality thing. I think physicality is over-rated in the English game and the best example I can give is Xabi Alonso. Alonso had one miserable season at Liverpool where he was constantly muscled off the ball, exactly as it's suggested would happen to Allen, and it hurt the team very badly. It's probably why Benitez was willing to sell him. Alonso was never the kind of bruising midfielder who would hold off other players through brute strength, even though he's not a small guy. Although having Mascherano in the team subsequently helped, how he really overcame that problem was to simply adapt his skill set. He didn't transform himself into a physical style of player, he just increased his pace a little, deliberated on the ball far less and developed a few simply tricks to hold off those pressing players and buy himself a bit of time and space when needed. Of course Allen is no Alonso, just like he's also not the Welsh Xavi, but he has his own set of skills and he IS capable of protecting the ball, I've seen him do it plenty. No question it would require him to adapt his style a little but if that requirement was good enough for Alonso I think it could be good enough to Allen too. Allen doesn't need to be a big bruiser to do the job, he just needs to use his skills appropriately.