Joe Allen's dip in form following a strong start to the season where he was asked to fill in for an injured Lucas Leiva was as noticeable as it was precipitous. Over a few short months it saw the £15M signing go from valued new arrival to, at least in the eyes of many fans, yet another pile of money Liverpool had wasted in the transfer market.
However, with news emerging over the weekend that Allen would be forced to undergo surgery before the end of the year to repair a damaged shoulder that has been bothering him since the autumn, the root cause for his increasingly ineffective play appears to have been made clear.
Allen, who turns 23 in two days, first injured the shoulder playing rugby as a child, and in 2010 while at Swansea he underwent surgery to repair the damage. That surgery, though, wasn't enough to fully put his troubles behind him, and beginning in October his shoulder once again began to hinder his ability to play football, limiting his range of motion and causing Allen significant discomfort.
The good news for Allen and Liverpool is that with another surgery there's a good chance any remaining damage can be fixed. The bad news is that with an expected twelve weeks of recovery time, the player will almost certainly have to go under the knife within the month in order to ensure he can return for the start of pre-season in July.
In the end, then, the only question is whether Brendan Rodgers feels a half-fit and in pain Allen is better than the other options currently at his disposal and just how little wiggle room the club want to leave themselves when it comes to the window they face between his having the surgery and the start of pre-season.
Certainly it seems unlikely that Allen will still be available on April 21st when Chelsea travel to Anfield for what looks Liverpool's toughest test before the season ends, but Rodgers might choose to keep Allen on hand for some or all of a stretch that sees the Reds face Southampton this weekend before taking on Aston Villa on the 31st of March and West Ham on the 7th of April.
On the other hand, with a string of opponents on queue that Liverpool should be favoured to dispatch with or without Allen in the lineup, sending him in for the surgery as soon as possible may be the sensible approach—even if a round of shoulder surgery might make for an exceptionally poor birthday present.