September has been a month to forget for Liverpool fans, with not a single Premier League win and stuttering victories over inferior opposition at Anfield.
A lot of the problems surrounding Liverpool’s current form has been put towards the absence of Daniel Sturridge, who has missed the last five matches with a thigh injury sustained on international duty.
Sturridge has not travelled with the rest of the Liverpool squad for tomorrow nights clash with FC Basel, meaning Mario Balotelli will once again lead the line.
The Italian has had a mixed start to his Anfield career, with some okay performances, and just the one goal in his first six matches.
A lot of Liverpool’s problems are said to be because Balotelli does not offer that same pace and directness up top, and whilst that has proved true to some extent, I believe the loss of another player injured whilst on international duty has been just as an important factor behind the Reds recent slump.
Joe Allen also returned from international duty injured – although Roy Hodgson was not to blame on this occasion – and the Reds have struggled without him.
Allen has quietly gone about proving why Brendan Rodgers was so eager to pay £15million for his services following his arrival in the summer of 2012.
After a bright start to his Liverpool career, injuries and a loss of form saw Allen tail off badly during the second half of the 2012-13 season.
2013-14 proved the opposite, with the 24-year-old coming in at the half way point of the season and helping the Reds to within two points of the Premier League title.
Allen showed exactly where he fits into Rodgers system, with an outstanding performance alongside Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva in the 5-0 win at Tottenham in December 2013.
His next big turning point came in February, when he came off the bench to turn the game in the Reds favour in a 4-3 win over Swansea at Anfield.
By that point, the Reds had picked up some winning momentum, and Allen became a fixture in the new diamond formation deployed by Brendan Rodgers, as the Reds chased a first Premier League title.
He started the next two matches – back to back 3-0 away wins at Southampton and Manchester United, and won the crucial second penalty at Old Trafford.
Allen played a crucial role in Liverpool’s midfield during the second half of last season, and picked up where he left off last season at the start of this campaign.
He came off the bench to swing the game in the Reds favour on the opening day against Southampton – as he had done against Swansea six months previously – and was one of the better players in the 3-1 defeat at the Etihad.
The 3-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane was the match in which it became obvious just what an important player Joe Allen has become for this Liverpool team.
The diamond formation with Raheem Sterling in the number 10 role, and two central strikers of Balotelli and Sturridge appears to be Liverpool’s most threatening attack.
But for the diamond formation to prosper, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson are absolutely crucial.
Both bring the best out of one another, with superb energy levels and ability on the ball. Henderson could be viewed as the more creative of the two, tasked with scoring more goals and providing assists, whilst Allen does plenty of the dirty work on the opposite side.
With Allen’s absence, Brendan has spoken of being unable to field certain formations to fit the right personnel.
The midfield diamond that was so effective last season and in the match at White Hart Lane, was a complete shambles when deployed in the 3-1 defeat at West Ham.
Partly down to the fact Fabio Borini or Rickie Lambert are not suitable replacements for Sturridge as a partner for Balotelli, but also because Lucas Leiva offers nowhere near the same intensity, pressing and passing ability as Allen does on one side of the diamond.
Adam Lallana would be a player you would consider capable of doing that job, but in deploying him in that position you would take away a lot of what he offers going forward.
Allen does a very simple job, very well.
Brenan has spoken of his tactical intelligence before, and clearly rates him as a top player – stating the £15million the club paid for him would double before too long.
He may not be quite there yet, but Allen’s form since the turn of the year is certainly a step in the right direction.
His absence from the first team over the past five matches has been a testament to that, with Liverpool’s high intensity pressing game from last season almost non-existent.
Whilst Sturridge has been a huge loss, Allen on one side of the midfield diamond complimenting Gerrard and Henderson whilst allowing Sterling to roam free behind two central strikers, has been just as – if not more – crucial.