The decision to start a struggling Joe Allen ahead of the on-form Jordan Henderson against Manchester United shows a manager blinded by his affection for the player brought with him from Swansea. This should be a cause for concern for Liverpool fans.
After Joe Allen's form dropped throughout November and December while Jordan Henderson made a positive impact any time he was given the chance, most began to assume in recent weeks that the young Englishman had locked down a role in the starting eleven. As such, Brendan Rodgers' decision to bring Allen back in at the expense of Henderson against Manchester United despite their sharply divergent form left many scratching their heads. Then, when the manager removed Lucas instead of Allen at the half (HT: RedFlood) despite that the latter was the club's weakest midfield performer, it raised even more questions.
Managers, after all, often do have blind spots when it comes to certain players—players they either can't ever see the good in or ones whose flaws they're all too eager to overlook. And Allen, for all that his performances early in the season suggest a player who can offer a great deal, does seem to fall into the later category. When playing well, of course, such favouritism will be of little concern. Now, with Allen off his game, it only serves to paint Rodgers as a manager stubbornly intent on proving the player he brought with him from Swansea was worth the £15M paid.
Early in the season, with Lucas out injured and Allen filling in as the closest thing the club had to a holding midfielder, he looked likely to prove worth that hefty fee and then some. In the months that followed, however, the wear of playing in a deeper and more physically demanding position than the one he filled at Swansea clearly began to take a toll. It's a toll that unfortunately Allen has yet to fully recover from, even if the promise he showed in the early going should make his potential value to the club quite thoroughly clear.
It hasn't helped either that Steven Gerrard appears to have settled into the second midfield position, filling the linking role between attack and defence many had assumed Allen was eventually destined for when Rodgers bought him. And while moving Gerrard forward would perhaps mean more of an attacking threat from midfield along with an increased chance of Allen rediscovering his early season form, with Liverpool's captain on his best form since the 2008-09 season it's not hard to see why the manager might be hesitant to make such a move.
Meanwhile, most had assumed Jordan Henderson, similarly to Allen, was a player only ever really suited to being the high-energy, box-to-box link between attack and defence—not incisive enough to take on the attacking midfield role and not strong enough in the tackle to screen the backline by himself. However, on the evidence of the past two months it's clear that with Gerrard having claimed that box-to-box role for the time being, Henderson is at least the best option currently at hand to fill the void in attacking midfield.
Second to Henderson for the role would have to either be the inconsistent but promising Jonjo Shelvey or the completely inexperienced but similarly promising Suso—likely leaving Allen the club's fourth best option at the moment. Rodgers, however, doesn't appear to see things that way, and the faith in Allen that allows the manager to insist he's suited to a more attacking role is at present only helping to keep Allen stuck in the rut he's been in since the Autumn. It's also causing many fans to begin to sour on the player, especially given that quite substantial transfer fee.
In a way it's similar to the manner in which Henderson's £16M transfer fee last season quickly became an added pressure on the young player and another reason for fans to grow skeptical as he was repeatedly deployed out of position to little effect and ahead of more proven options. Now, a year on and under a new manager, it's Allen's £15M fee that grows increasingly large in retrospect as Rodgers shoehorns him into the side regardless of form and often in a role he's not suited for—and, in a strangely ironic twist, often at the expense of Henderson.
It might be easy to say the player simply needs to put his head down and work to find his form again—and that's exactly the sort of overly simplistic take on the matter many have fallen back on when Joe Allen's ongoing poor play is discussed. The truth though is that the manager who appears to value him so highly needs to help if he's to have any chance of rediscovering that form, and right now Rodgers is only hurting Allen's chances to do so—and hurting his own chances of succeeding at Liverpool in the process, too.