While his manager might hesitate to pick out the clear dip in performance, Joe Allen's more straightforward about a run of form over the past few months that simply hasn't been good enough.
The loss to Oldham was a resounding flop for nearly all involved, with only Steven Gerrard emerging with an ounce or two of credit. Stewart Downing was decent enough, I suppose, and Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge each had a moment or two as the club slipped to a 3-2 defeat and out of the FA Cup.
It wasn't surprising, then, to read Brendan Rodgers picking out Gerrard for his influence, as the captain undoubtedly made Liverpool far more dangerous than they'd been without him. What was a little surprising--although in the context of what we know about the manager, maybe not--was to read an appraisal that also acquitted Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson, which Noel mentioned yesterday, as neither were particularly effective in a two-man midfield. They were missing for large chunks (read: all of it) of the first half, and while Allen's deflected effort brought the visitors within a goal late, I don't know that I'd say either were worth highlighting.
But While Rodgers has shown something of a blind spot as far as his young Welsh midfielder goes, the player himself seems a little more aware of the struggles that have seen him go from Liverpool's player of the month in August to the fourth-choice midfielder:
"In recent times I think it goes without saying that my form has been slightly disappointing. But I am faithful and confident that I will turn things around on a personal level. It's games like Wednesday (at Arsenal) where, if I can be involved in some way, I can get my performance levels higher.
The games against Arsenal and Manchester City earlier in the season are probably the level I am hoping to reach again and be more consistent with. There is no magic formula. I'll keep working hard and keep faithful there will be another performance like that just around the corner."
Few would argue with his inclusion were he matching the displays he mentions; against Manchester City he was terrific, particularly after having to adjust early due to Lucas' injury, and while the overall performance against Arsenal at Anfield was dismal, he again shone in a deeper-lying role. It wasn't straight off a cliff from there, but as the weeks progressed, it became clear that for whatever reason--and likely quite a few between being overplayed, out of position, and becoming a new father--those performances earlier in the season were no longer the norm.
That he's been dropped by a manager that so clearly favors him speaks volumes, and at the present moment, there's little reason to include him when the triumvirate of Lucas, Steven Gerrard, and Jordan Henderson seem to have struck an effective balance. Lack of minutes now isn't a death sentence for his Liverpool career, of course, and those writing him off completely while loudly shouting about his price tag don't really offer much other than annoyance. But it is clear that the 22 year-old needs to improve, and that he's well aware of that fact is at least encouraging.