By David Lynch
Wednesday evening is certain to be an emotional one for Joe Allen as he faces Swansea City – the club he joined as a nine-year-old – for the first time since departing.
The Capital One Cup clash between the Swans and Liverpool will mark just the 83rd day since the midfielder’s move to Anfield was confirmed, and an eyebrow-raising £15 million fee was sent in the other direction.
However, in that short period, the 22-year-old has done everything possible to assuage fears about his costliness, rewarding the faith shown in him with a series of impressive performances.
Comparisons with former Reds man Xabi Alonso are already being quietly whispered on the Kop, even though they are often tempered by the admission that the Welshman is not yet in the Real Madrid midfielder’s class.
What is without question, though, is that Allen is going some way to compensating for the absence of his metronomic predecessor – something Liverpool have singularly failed to do since the Spaniard’s 2009 departure.
Charlie Adam had once been expected to fill that rhythmic void in the centre of the park, though in truth it transpired that the Scot marched to a very different beat. But Allen has finally picked up the slack, providing a constant out ball for his team-mates and showing a remarkable desire to take the ball in the sort of tight spaces where British players often wish to eschew responsibility.
In fact, he already boasts a 92.5 per cent pass accuracy in his first nine games for the club, a statistic which sees him outperforming all of his midfield colleagues, including international stars such as Steven Gerrard and Nuri Sahin.
Yet, for all these predictable passing plaudits, the Camarthen-born midfielder was forced to convey a very different side of his playing personality during Liverpool’s most recent fixture. Allen had to call on every ounce of his oft-commended character as he found himself engaged in a personal duel with man mountain Marouane Fellaini during the Merseyside derby.
He may not have won many headers against a player 10-and-a-half inches taller than him, but the midfielder did not shirk his responsibilities when the ball was within his reach. Allen had the highest tackle success rate of any man on the pitch, all this whilst boasting his side’s best pass completion figures in the cauldron of Goodison Park.
That 2-2 draw – a game of unerring commitment with some moments of real quality – arguably provided fans with their best look yet at every asset Allen possesses. At his best, the Wales international is a look into what Brendan Rodgers wants his side to become; he presses at the right times, monopolises possession and plays without fear.
And yet, the 39-year-old manager believes his prodigy can continue to improve – once shifted to his rightful position upon Lucas Leiva’s return.
On the topic, Rodgers told reporters: “When you see him further up you get another 50%, but because he knows how I work I have to play him deep so that he can dominate the ball.
“He’s got more to come; when Lucas comes back and I can push Joe into that role you’ll see a different player again because he’s so dynamic.”
Whilst Allen’s boundless potential will of course excite Liverpool fans, it is perhaps the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, who will derive the most pleasure from his development. Their financial model dictates that players must be purchased young and at a price which offers the chance of return should the Merseyside outfit ever find themselves facing an Arsenal-style exodus.
Allen is the perfect representation of that, meaning he now embodies the club’s long-term philosophies both on and off the pitch better than anyone.
Follow David Lynch on