17 December 2012

Time for a breather

Joe Allen is one Liverpool player who could do with a Christmas break.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is one of the best man-managers in the Premier League.

Rodgers knows how to handle the development of young players. He likes to give them plenty of opportunities, but recognises when it's time to give them a rest.

That was evident in Saturday's 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa at Anfield. After a lethargic midfield display from his side against a Villa team that itself is full of talented youngsters, the Northern Irishman said that he would like to rest Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen for the next few games.

Sterling has only just turned 18, but has made 25 senior appearances for the Reds already this season. During this time, England's most precocious talent since Wayne Rooney also made his international debut for the Three Lions. It was only a matter of time before the speedy winger started to look jaded.

Allen is four years older at 22, and one could say that he is even more important to how Rodgers' Liverpool team works. The boss developed Allen during their time at Swansea City and has turned him into one of British football's top passers of the ball, but he too has had a lot of action this season.

As Joe himself might say, obviously Allen is in need of a rest, obviously, because at the end of the day, obviously he's human and obviously cannot play every minute of every game. Obviously.

Rodgers told the media of his plans for the duo, saying, "There is no doubt Raheem is one who does need a breather. I've thought about it over the past couple of weeks. In order to do that you need to have that depth to take him out and put somebody else in.

"He's a naturally very, very fit boy but he needs that mental rest as well. That time will come and he will get the breather soon enough.

"There is no doubt after working with Joe and seeing him [now], he’s another one. If we're honest, there are a few who could do with that breather, especially mentally. It's something for sure I need to have a wee look at."

The problem for Rodgers is this: Who does he bring in when the time does come for Sterling to sit out a few games? It's highly unlikely that anyone at Liverpool can match the Jamaican-born prodigy for pace, but one of Rodgers' summer signings, Moroccan winger Oussama Assaidi, hasn't played a great deal this campaign so this could be a good chance for him to show what he's got.

As for temporary replacements for Allen, Suso had a run in the first-team earlier on but is only 19 and his progress needs to be closely monitored. Maybe that central midfield spot could go to Jordan Henderson (stop laughing at the back!), who replaced Lucas Leiva in the second half against Villa.

Indeed, Rodgers could decide to continue his plan to bring as many youth team players into the first team fold as he can, by giving another player or two their senior debuts.

Going into the last three games of 2012, Liverpool are 12th in the Premier League, and are as close to the top four as they are to the relegation zone. Those three matches - at home to Fulham, and then away to Stoke City and Queens Park Rangers - are all very winnable. Picking up seven or nine points from those fixtures could put the Reds in a good position to challenge for a UEFA Champions League spot.

Brendan Rodgers has some tough decisions to make over the next couple of weeks, but two decisions that he should take would be to rest Sterling and Allen for the time being. He'll want his best assets in tip-top condition for two especially important away games in January against Manchester United and Arsenal.

A break would give Sterling and Allen the chance to put their feet up and celebrate Christmas with their families, and in the 18-year-old former's case, his children.

Speaking of which, does Raheem still believe in Father Christmas?

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