Connect in the back of the net

On Halloween evening, it was the curse of the former player that accounted for Swansea on Monday night.

Wilfried Bony, sold by the Welsh club to Manchester City in January 2015 and is now finding his feet in the Potteries moving on loan to Stoke, scored his first two goals for his new club in a 3-1 win.

Swansea, whose manager Bob Bradley is fast discovering the true weight of the task he has inherited from Francesco Guidolin, would perhaps have been more haunted by the player they let go in 2012 and were close to having back in the summer.

Guidolin directed an £8 million bid to Liverpool for Joe Allen in the summer only to have it rebuffed in favour of a £13 million switch to the Britannia and Allen set about reminding everybody at Swansea, now rooted firmly in the relegation zone, of his quality on Monday.

Allen provided both of Bony’s goals; the first with a clever strike across a mixed box that was struggling to clear a corner and the second with a driving run that seized onto a neat flick from Marco Arnautovic.

 

The Welsh Pirlo

The “Welsh Pirlo” as he is affectionately known but this was not a performance fitting with the usual perception of Allen.

There was no sitting in deep midfield, kneading play with controlled passes. He only made 28 of them, instead he covered 12.55km and recorded 68 sprints, more than any other player on the pitch.

“We aim to keep it tight to deny their players space between the lines” said Bradley as he explained his game-plan before kick-off, name-checking Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic.

With Bojan on the bench and Shaqiri removed with injury after 26 minutes, any sense of relief from Swansea’s defenders that the threat had disappeared went out of the window as it was Allen and Charlie Adam freely moving into attacking areas.

After their early season struggles and the decision to phase Giannelli Imbula out of the starting side, Mark Hughes has found the correct midfield balance that has seen Geoff Cameron slotting in alongside Glenn Whelan, at home moving the ball around from the base of midfield.

Hughes has moved Allen forward to play behind the striker as an attacking midfielder and with 4 goals to his name he has already equalled his best total for a Premier League season.

 

Stellar start

That campaign, in Swansea’s first since promotion in 2011/12, was the one that convinced Brendan Rodgers that Allen should follow him to Anfield and his 1.4 shots per game so far represents his best average since that final season in Wales.

He is creating chances at a rate of 1.5 per game, his highest return since leaving Swansea, but his 37.4 passes per match are way down on the 60.5 he posted under Rodgers.

 

A new Joe Allen

It is the emergence of a new Joe Allen.

One that is more capable of making dynamic runs into the opposition box like he did against Manchester United to prod home an equaliser after Peter Crouch had caused problems for David De Gea.

There were shades of Frank Lampard as he scampered into the box to head in Arnautovic’s cross against Sunderland, while his second was a fine shot from the edge of the box after the Black Cats failed to deal with a corner.

A finely controlled half-volley for Wales against Austria came in the middle of his superb recent run in which he has shown what a shrewd piece of business, considering they are busy looking for the receipt for Imbula, Stoke have pulled off for the midfielder.

“He is a wonderful football player” said the manager who sold him from Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp, and he is showing, free from the saturated competition for midfield places that saw the 26 year old pushed out at Anfield, that the German was correct in his judgement.

Klopp would probably not recognise this Allen however, one not contented to be sitting in midfield dictating the beat like he still does for Wales, but one that is willing to roam forwards in the search of hitting the final note.

 

Evolving

If it was the heavy pressing that Klopp found he was lacking at Liverpool, he is adapting his game under Hughes.

His number of tackles (5.3 per game) and interceptions (1.8 per game) are up on any of the seasons he managed at Liverpool and his defensive numbers are better than anybody else in the Stoke squad.

He is Stoke’s chief ball-winner, chance creator and goal-scorer and in a squad that contains the class of Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Bojan, it is reflective of the quality that the often-unheralded Welshman possesses.

 

Swansea’s loss

As Bradley helplessly watched from the Swansea dugout as Allen ran the show on Monday evening, how much would he have yearned for a player as pivotal as the 26-year-old.

He certainly would be finding his job much easier if Swansea’s hierarchy had sanctioned a more aggressive pursuit of the Welshman in the summer.

Monday’s performance should act as a warning that Swansea’s malaise lies in the boardroom as much as it does in the manager’s office.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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