Within the relative chaos caused by the fixture pile-up in England during the festive period, Liverpool vs Stoke City on 27th December may not immediately jump out to casual onlookers as being a game of vital significance.
Liverpool are currently in full flow under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp whilst Stoke City occupy their standard place in mid-table, well clear of any potential relegation issues. There is genuine hope around Anfield that their charismatic German manager may be on course to lead the red half of Merseyside to the Premier League title and the visit of The Potters is expected to culminate in another victory for the home side. It is difficult to foresee Mark Hughes’ team causing a Christmas upset.
But the fixture will certainly hold a significance and poignancy for Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen. The Welsh international will be making his first appearance at Anfield since his £13,000,000 transfer from Liverpool in the summer and he will undoubtedly be determined to prove a point to his previous employers. However, more importantly, his return will act as a barometer of his own progress and development after rejuvenating his career in The Potteries in a new attacking central midfield role.
Frustration on Merseyside for “the Welsh Xavi”
Allen signed for Liverpool in the summer of 2012, arriving from Swansea City for £15,000,000 and following in the footsteps of former manager Brendan Rodgers. The then 22-year-old came with a promising pedigree and a reputation as being a technically proficient central midfield player that excelled in maintaining possession and distributing the play with simple, eloquent passes. His presence as a water-carrier allowed other more attack minded team mates to flourish. He was given the nickname of “the Welsh Xavi”, a testament to his simple, effective playing style that had many similarities with his more illustrious Spanish counterpart in Barcelona.
Under the guidance of Brandan Rodgers, Allen had been expected to flourish at Liverpool as a vital cog in the total-football machine that the Northern Irish manager was attempting to assemble on Merseyside. However, instead the Welsh midfielder’s time at Anfield was characterised by inconsistency, injury and an inability to cement a place in the starting line-up. The transition to a ‘big’ club was undoubtedly a steep learning curve; adapting not just in terms of the greater demands for quality performances on the pitch, but dealing with the pressure and weight of expectation that comes with representing a sporting institution such as Liverpool. Allen was never able to retain a consistent starting role at Anfield, and although the appointment of Jurgen Klopp re-enthused the club it was clear that the Welshman needed a fresh start.
Rejuvenation in The Potteries
Joe Allen needed a change of scenery and a fresh start at an ambitious club that would provide him with more regular playing opportunities. His performances for Wales in the 2016 European Championships during the summer provided on-lookers with a timely reminder of his qualities and it was little surprise that a number of Premier League clubs started to show an interest in securing his services. It was Mark Hughes that demonstrated the most definitive fervour in the race for Allen’s signature and it came as little surprise when Stoke City unveiled their new £13,000,000 signing at the end of July.
Under the guidance of Mark Hughes, Allen has been able to rejuvenate his career in The Potteries and has become a key component of the current Stoke City team. More impressively, the midfielder has evolved and redefined his own playing style, demonstrating a new attacking aspect of his game that has previously gone unnoticed and unused at previous clubs. Hughes deploys Allen in a central attacking-midfield role, often behind a lone striker, a complete contrast to the defensive responsibilities that he adopted at both Swansea City and Liverpool. He has already found the net five times in the Premier League so far this campaign and his energy and enthusiasm to run beyond the striker or into wide areas provides Stoke with a new, all action, attacking outlet. The technical proficiency and defensive tenacity still remain, but Allen has now added a creative element to his game that has seen him either scoring or assisting over half of The Potters goals this season.
Unsurprisingly, “the Welsh Xavi” has already become something of a cult hero in The Potteries. The supporters are able to easily-relate and connect with Allen’s astonishing work ethic, energy and positive attitude whilst his creativity has provided the foundation that has allowed the team to climb the table following a poor start to the campaign. For many, he is already a shoe-in for the end of year Player of the Season award and he is rightly being commended by many as being in the form of his life. His transfer to Stoke has proven to have been an inspired decision for all parties involved.
Liverpool vs Stoke City may not be perceived as being too significant for many casual onlookers, but for Joe Allen it will be the perfect opportunity to showcase his rejuvenation in a new attacking role at an ambitious, forward thinking club.
Who knows, he might just be a key if The Potters are to cause an upset.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved John Smith (John Smith)