Injured players deserve to be protected, and no doubt that Brendan Rodgers was right to leave Lucas out of the starting eleven yesterday against Southampton. The Brazilian's been gaining in form over the past few weeks, but after an early season setback saw him sidelined for an extended spell, any care taken ahead of what's generally agreed-upon as a full return for next season is fully justified.
So the post-match revelation about the slight knock erases any discontent about Lucas' exclusion--he needs to be looked after, full stop--but it doesn't answer questions about why a player who's arguably worse off in terms of fitness replaced him. Liverpool are a thin squad overall, though in the midfield they're somewhat deeper, and the choice to replace one injured player with another is one of the more confounding decisions Brendan Rodgers has made in his tenure as Liverpool manager.
Until, of course, you consider that the player chosen to replace Lucas was Joe Allen. Like so many others, we were blown away by his early performances and remain optimistic about the future he has with Liverpool. At his best, Allen distributes well, proves timely in defense, and overall has the ability to tick play along while popping up further forward in support. He's got great awareness and can play above his size, which we saw in spades during August and the early part of September.
Problem is that it's mid-March and he's a shadow of that player, apparently carrying a long-standing shoulder injury that's been discussed openly as needing surgery some time in the near future. Picking up a knock in training during the week is concerning, particularly for a player who's not yet back to full fitness after two serious injuries. Selecting another injured player to replace that player, however, is beyond concerning and ventures into the inexcusable.
Especially when he's chosen ahead of Jordan Henderson, who is, at the present moment at least, far more fit and capable than Joe Allen. The winter months saw Henderson start to realize the potential that Damien Comolli kicked in the door for during the summer of 2011, and without warning, he was relegated to a bench position and ultimately viewed as less valuable than a player who's been off-form and injured for most of the past five months.
That's not a good thing. After a sparkling run that saw him as the most effective Liverpool midfielder, he's made only three starts--one in the loss against West Brom and two in the tie against Zenit, when the dual withdrawal of both him and Allen at Anfield effectively killed Liverpool's threat--and faded to mop-up duty late in matches.
It's a relegation that I think transcends our (or at least my) fanboy leanings for the young Englishman. He's done nothing to justify an ousting to the bench, and while the addition of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in January has understandably clouded the picture regarding the best eleven Rodgers has at his disposal, there's seemingly not much of a discussion to be had as to whether or not Allen is better placed than Henderson to feature on a regular basis.
And yet that discussion apparently does need to take place, as Henderson fades further from view in the first team and closer to a summer exit. A pass-first midfielder that willingly presses the opposition and runs himself into the ground would seem to be a perfect fit for a manager who preaches those very same principles, but at this point that midfielder can't find any time, and there's apparently little he or anyone else can do to persuade Brendan Rodgers to choose otherwise--even the decision to replace Allen at the half yesterday was a foregone conclusion for a full twenty-odd minutes before it happened.
Rodgers' apparent favoritism of Allen has done a disservice to all three parties--he comes off looking bull-headed and short-sighted, Allen works hard but clearly isn't up to the task either through form or fitness, and Henderson is left to wonder what he can possibly do to reclaim a spot that's disappeared despite the best form of his Liverpool career.