Better than average Joe: Rodgers backs Allen to be an Anfield star
21:40 GMT, 26 August 2012
El Nino is dead, long live The Kid. Fernando Torres was the first Liverpool player to have that simple nickname but, to hear Brendan Rodgers speak so animatedly, it would seem a successor for the title has been found.
Step forward Joe Allen. He won’t score goals at a rate like Torres or have defenders petrified they will be left for dead with an exhilarating change of pace but, much more of this, and the little Welshman could soon be enjoying the kind of popularity Anfield only reserves for its special ones.
Thrust into the midst of a frantic midfield battle, where Champions League winners and World Cup finalists roamed, the diminutive Allen was dominant, a little terrier whose range of measured, simple passing had his new audience purring.
Red alert: Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen tussles with Manchester City's Carlos Tevez
A LITTLE PASS MASTER
Joe Allen's pass completion rate against Manchester City on Sunday was 93.5 per cent — the highest in the match.
His Premier League pass completion percentage at Swansea and Liverpool is 91 per cent in 38 games. The average for midfielders who have played more than 30 games is 82.3 per cent.The 22-year-old made 2,177 passes last season — the average midfielder made just 1,321.
'I think the Liverpool supporters will enjoy watching this kid play football,’ Rodgers said after Allen’s impressive performance in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City that could – and perhaps should – have been so much more.
'He’s five foot six but in terms of a footballer, he is seven foot six. He is absolutely immense – his courage to get on the ball, his body work is fantastic; how he reads the game, his football intelligence. This kid will play at the top and is playing at the top.’
Note the emphasis on kid. Shortly after sealing the deal that brought him from The Liberty Stadium earlier this month, Rodgers said Allen had Spanish technical qualities, very much in the mould of the pass masters Xavi and Andres Iniesta, so El Nino Mk II might not be so far off the mark.
'We paid 15million for him,’ Rodgers, who insisted “the best team did not win”, continued. ‘When he came in, I said very quickly that the price would double. People probably laughed at me. He will play here for many years and the supporters will love this kid.’
Allen is only 22 but he plays with a maturity beyond his years and is fearless, too. It never mattered when Yaya Toure or Nigel De Jong snapped at his heels, he simply kept asking for the ball – and Liverpool were all the better for it.
Comfortable on the ball: Allen brushes past Samir Nasri
Long after the game had finished, around 7.20pm when only a couple of groundsmen were left mowing the pitch, Allen emerged from the tunnel, still in his kit and walked up and down the touchline, appearing to explain to an older male companion where he needed to improve.
'When someone shows faith in you and gives you that responsibility, it makes you desperate to pay it back,’ said Allen.
Such an attitude will see him go a long way. At the moment, though, he is still very good and he dovetailed to great effect with Steven Gerrard, a player who Allen confessed to idolising as a teenager, and it will be intriguing to see where the club’s latest addition Nuri Sahin will fit in.
Rodgers wants Liverpool to play a brave, exciting brand of football and decisions such as making Allen a midfield kingpin and handing a first Barclays Premier League start to the impish 17-year-old Raheem Sterling mirror that philosophy.
Philosophy: Brendan Rodgers wants Liverpool to be brave in their style of play
There may have been some surprise to see Sterling given such responsibility but, after a hugely taking display in Liverpool’s Europa League win over Hearts on Thursday night, Rodgers did not baulk at leaving the more established Stewart Downing on the sidelines.
Sterling has been the subject of great excitement on Merseyside since he was prised from Queens Park Rangers as a 15-year-old in February 2010 during the final months of Rafa Benitez’s reign and this bold effort against the champions will have done little to dampen the enthusiasm.
'It was an easy decision to play him,’ Rodgers explained. ‘I said when I came here that I wouldn’t judge people on their status or what they have done. I will make my judgements on what I see now in front of me. He is a young player that has improved every single day since I have come in here.
Exciting debut: Raheem Sterling made his first start in the League for Liverpool
'He was a player who played on his own in the one against one. Now if you look at him, fighting for the team; he has a tactical understanding and you could see what he was doing against a really experienced player. He blocked the line of pass, he was coming back to cover the lines.
'I thought for a 17-year-old, playing against the champions, his performance was fantastic. He has got a long way to go and that is something I will keep a close eye on.’
Only a month ago, Rodgers was considering sending Sterling out on loan to accelerate his development but, such has been the progress he has made, the idea of giving him a temporary move has been shelved and his pace and trickery will be potent weapons when he fully matures.
'I’m very happy with our progress,’ said Rodgers. ‘We had an off-day at West Brom but, apart from that, we have shown great resilience and perseverance. I am seeing improvements in our game.'
And improvements will create a wave of optimism that not even Carlos Tevez’s late equaliser could puncture.