Joe Allen was often the odd man out of the midfield rotation this season. Despite his strong play whenever he was able to get playing time, he was unable to outplay Emre Can and James Milner for a starting place. All was not bad for the midfielder though, as his strong play combined with his magnificent head of hair and beard led to him become a virtual cult hero among Liverpool fans. Instead of Brendan Rodgers’ infamous nickname of the “Welsh Xavi” JAllen became the “Welsh Pirlo” or the “Welsh Jesus.” Unfortunately, the Welsh Jesus may have played his last game in a Liverpool shirt as Jordan Henderson will be returning from injury, Marko Grujic arrives from Red Star Belgrade, and Jürgen Klopp looks poised to add reinforcements in central midfield.
Allen, albeit in limited playing time, did a fantastic job controlling play in central midfield when he was on the pitch. He recorded a very good 83.9% passing accuracy, including an elite 78.6% passing accuracy in the final third during EPL play. Allen recorded three goals and one assist despite playing a deeper midfield position. In comparison to Can’s one goal in significantly more playing time, Allen’s mark of three goals in a third of the playing time is impressive. He recorded a goal every 365.5 minutes in the Premier League, a mark that is better than Can, Milner, Henderson, and even attacking midfielder Adam Lallana. Allen, on his day, can be a huge presence in midfield with his tidy passing and ability to cleverly neutralize the opposition. Due to his diminutive stature and the physicality of the Premier League, Allen is forced to revert to his cleverness in order to be effective. Luckily, the Welshman has a very good tactical awareness that allows him to move forward and support the attack while not leaving the defense exposed.
Allen has an innate ability to control play with intelligent tackles and clever disruption of passing lanes. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Allen actually recorded slightly more duels won per minute than Can in central midfield. Additionally, Allen won 51.3% of these duels, only 1.6% less than Can. In comparison to Can’s aggressive bullishness that allows him to easily bully attackers off the ball, Allen’s very comparable numbers prove that physicality is not everything. Allen was also able to recover possession at a higher rate than his German midfield mate, yet another example of how he is able to use his tactical intelligence to neutralize his opponents. The Welshman’s performance against Bournemouth late in the season was a perfect illustration of how he is able to break up play in the center of the park while also being an important contributor in the final third. Without any exceptional physical traits, Allen relies on his intelligence to be effective—a much unheralded aspect of some players.
Despite all of the good play Allen showed this season, not to mention his borderline cult following among Liverpool fans thanks to his awesome personality, it appears unlikely he will be returning for the 2016-2017 season. Klopp has been noted to be an admirer of the midfielder, but no contract extension has been offered by the club’s front office. Plus, former club Swansea City has been muted as a potential destination for Allen to return to his previous club according to the Metro. Allen leaving would be a disappointing outcome for such a lovable player, but one that appears best for the Welshman. He wants, and frankly needs, to play every week at this stage of his career, and that is something Liverpool cannot offer right now. While some may argue that Allen is a better option than Milner and Henderson in Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 formation, it does not appear that Klopp feels the same way. As a result, the only way Allen would be able to stay at Anfield would be as a squad player similar to the past few seasons. It is very unlikely that he would be able to put himself ahead of those currently above him in the pecking order. Also, Allen only has one year left on his contract so it is only natural that the Reds would be looking to sell him this summer rather than letting him play sparingly for one season before leaving on a free transfer next summer.
In conclusion, Allen would be best suited to seek a move away from Merseyside in order to maximize his playing time during the prime years of his career. Not only would this benefit Allen, but it would also help the Reds in the long term by providing more opportunities for players such as Kevin Stewart, Cameron Brannagan, and Grujic. It will be sad to no longer have the Welsh Pirlo’s fantastic personality around the club, but a move would be best for both parties and looks likely to happen in the coming months.