Allen: "It's a Challenge You Have to Relish"

Michael Dodge

After spending much of the past year dealing with injuries, Joe Allen is happy to simply be back playing again, and he's relishing the challenge of fighting for minutes in a crowded midfield.

A hamstring injury and the emergence of Jordan Henderson have combined to limit Joe Allen to three total appearances so far this season with a mere two off the bench in league action. After being one of the first names on Brendan Rodgers' teamsheet last season and with the season set to pass the quarter mark at the half on Saturday, it's fair to say things haven't been heading in the direction Allen would have hoped when he made the move to Liverpool for £15M two summers ago.

Despite his struggles with two separate injuries and the emergence of others in his absence, Allen is adamant he relishes the challenge of fighting his way back into contention for starting minutes in a side much stronger than the one he initially joined. He further insists that the top priority is winning, no matter if that comes with him starting on the pitch or on the bench, and with the club currently winning most of their league games he'll just have to put his head down and work hard, waiting for his chance.

"It's a challenge you have to relish as a professional footballer," said Allen. "There's always competition and there's always someone out for the same spot as you. It's been a great start to the season and we're playing really well, so that makes the competition even harder [but] the atmosphere is great. We're towards the top of the table and that's where we want to be. We know it's a massive competition up there and there are some very strong clubs."

Beyond being willing to embrace the challenge to fighting his way back into contention, Allen is happy simply to be back in action at all. He convinced early in his Liverpool career, looking a strong option in midfield and even putting in a capable shift when called on to replace Lucas Leiva as the holding player, but an unreported shoulder injury soon hindered his effectiveness, and some began to sour on Allen. When the injury became public knowledge, that he had kept playing ahead of healthy—and in form—options like Jordan Henderson didn't help, either.

A season that had started with such promise for the diminutive midfielder ended with a whimper and Allen undergoing surgery, and his second year at Liverpool quickly turned sour with a hamstring injury against Notts County in the League Cup. Now, finally, Allen hopes he's put a year of injury troubles behind him, and the 23-year-old was appreciative of the chance to simply play a bit of football last weekend and to be in contention for this week when Liverpool visit the Emirates.

"It was great to be back out there," he added. "When you've been out with an injury, it's always nice to get back on the pitch and get back playing. So to come back on in front of the home crowd at Anfield was great. It was my first appearance there in the league for a long time, so hopefully I can get back to full fitness and look forward to making more appearances.

"I think when you've had a little bit of a lay-off, you miss a little bit of that sharpness and your match fitness is obviously a little bit down, but I'm working on that and I'm getting back to where I want to be. The idea is to get more minutes on the pitch. I've just got to make sure I train hard and put my name forward for selection as much as I can."

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