There are many reasons for a football fan to hate the international break, but every once in a while an international break is actually a good thing. One of those instances? When a player who has sustained an injury and is trying to work his way back into contention for his club team gets a chance for minutes with his national team.
Such is the situation with Joe Allen. After starting and performing well against the Netherlands in a 3-2 loss, Allen has impressed Wales Online football correspondent Chris Wathan. Wathan's recap of the Welsh performance highlights Allen as a key performer, even in a game where the diminutive midfielder missed a penalty kick.
The recap highlights passing and tenacity, and a certain je ne sais quois to Allen's game that needs to be seen live to be properly appreciated. These are common refrains for Allen apologists, but at point in the Welshman's career where it is fair to wonder how much longer he has in Liverpudlian Red, it raises the interesting though of what does Joe Allen do for a Jürgen Klopp team?
On first blush, the guy offers accurate passing. Short passing to be exact. According to whoscored.com, Joe Allen is averaging 102.8 completed short passes per ninety minutes. During those same ninety minutes, he is only managing to misplace 8.4 of his short passes. And of the 5.5 passes per 90 minutes that lead to a shot from a teammate, nearly all of them--5.1--are of the short variety.
If that sounds fairly impressive that is because it is. And even if it comes from a small sample size, it jibes with what Liverpool have seen out of Allen to date. The guy knows how to receive the ball and move it on in the short game. James Milner, for example, would do well to add a bit of Joe Allen's consistency in the short passing game.
Continuing the comparison to James Milner, the Englishman offers a long ball game that Allen lacks. In particular in those passes that lead to shots, where Milner is producing two key long balls per 90 minutes this season. That compares very favorably to Allen's per 90 rate of 0.4 long balls leading to a shot for a teammate.
The disparity here is enough to suggest that Milner's bottom line production on the higher degree of difficulty that is the long ball is one reason why he would get the nod over Allen, even with both players fit and firing. In particular for Klopp's gegenpress that will increasingly rely on those transitional moments, which are moments when vision and execution on a long pass can lead to quick hitting goals.
This is not to say an accurate short pass is a bad thing when trying to spring a counter, but it simply covers less ground and offers less big play potential than a well placed 30 yarder that hits its target in stride. Is this something Allen can salvage, then? Of course. And he does one other thing that may be critical to life under Klopp: tackle.
The part where Allen has a real strong claim for minutes is defensively. Lucas Leiva is the obvious standard where it concerns defending in midfield, where he is accumulating 7.5 tackles and 3.8 interceptions per 90 minutes. Joe Allen? In six appearances he has set a pace of 14.8 tackles and 2 interceptions per 90 minutes. Now, Lucas has played twice the amount of games as Allen, and has done so while consistently playing a screening position where production is as much about angles and positioning as it is about tackles and interceptions. However, that is impressive stuff from Welsh Xavi and it is absolutely a hand in glove fit for the gegenpress.
It also takes very little imagination to see the potential in combining Allen's selfless short passing and tackling with Lucas' imperious reading and recycling as a foundation for Philippe Coutinho's vision and range.
So, why any doubt at all about Allen's fit for Klopp? Because of that sample size caveat that is apparent in all of Allen's statistical categories. An incredible amount of passes, an incredible amount of tackles, all the way up until he gets injured and is out for an extended period of time, again. This has been Joe Allen's track record at Liverpool from the moment Brendan Rodgers signed him. And if the Welsh Red Panda fails to establish himself in Jürgen Klopp's revitalized Liverpool setup, it will be because of a continuation of this track record on the injury front.
So, to answer Mr. Wathan, Liverpool fans do know what they have in Joe Allen. A frustratingly injury prone midfielder who, when healthy, is consistently a part of the winning solution to a modern game problem. Perhaps that is easier to see from the day in/day out perspective of club football than from the every several month gaze of international football. But that dynamic is real, and it is every bit as detrimental to Joe Allen's Liverpool career as it has been for Daniel Sturridge's. Stay healthy, Wee Joe!