When former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers called Joe Allen “the Welsh Xavi” following the midfielder’s arrival from Swansea in 2012, he couldn’t have predicted that his words would turn Allen into a cult hero.
The fact that the Welshman hasn’t truly lived up to the comparison - which, let’s be honest, was an impossible task anyway - has allowed fans to turn it into a joke. “Here’s the Welsh Xavi to produce a miracle,” they called when Jurgen Klopp turned to his midfielder last season.
But how closely does Allen resemble Xavi on the pitch? We’ve studied the Liverpool player’s 2015-16 season with Xavi’s final season at Barcelona to learn just how wayward Rodgers’ assessment was.
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Before discussing the unmistakably vast difference between the number of passes both attempted, it’s worth pointing out that Xavi played 1,788 minutes in 2014-15 compared to Allen’s 754 minutes last season.
Still, the difference is quite remarkable.
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It works out that Xavi attempted a pass every 1.03 minutes he was on the pitch, Allen one pass every 1.88 minutes.
Xavi was the orchestrator of Barcelona’s possession-based system - every move seemed to flow through the diminutive midfielder - and he could always spot the runs of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Allen’s pass completion percentage was 84 per cent, compared to Xavi’s 93 per cent. Now, it would be interesting to note how many of the Spaniard’s completions were short one-twos with Sergio Busquets, but when it came to ball retention, Xavi was perfect at controlling the pace of play and allowing his teammates to get into ideal positions.
Allen didn’t have the luxury of playing in a team that consistently dominated possession. The 26-year-old, who made 11 substitute appearances, was often introduced when the Reds were trailing and was thus required to attempt more risky, attack-minded passes at times.
The reason why Xavi is such an accomplished player is his ability to complete the more difficult passes. Barcelona scored 110 goals in 2014-15, in no small part to the Spaniard’s ability to create chances.
Managing more than one key pass per game extinguishes the idea that Xavi was used simply to keep possession.
It’s what separates Xavi from the likes of Allen. The Barcelona man was a difference-maker from midfield, and that’s a very rare skill.
Though Allen only recorded one assist in the Premier League, he can at least claim that it came in a Merseyside derby.
OK, so Liverpool were already 3-0 up at the time Allen assisted Philippe Coutinho’s goal against Everton, but it’s still something for his parents to brag about.
He also produced this quite delightful effort against Southampton in the League Cup in December (0:42).
Luis Suarez was playing his first season in Spain following his move from Liverpool but it didn’t take Xavi long to become accustomed to the Uruguayan’s style, as this wonderful assist against Xavi proves.
Finally, something Allen is just as good as Xavi at!
Part of the Liverpool player’s appeal is his defensive nous. His versatility and work rate meant Klopp could bring him on when Liverpool needed to see out a victory.
Xavi can also read the game rather well. Barcelona’s objective in the rare occasions they are out of possession is to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible, and Xavi and Sergio Busquets were brilliant at doing just that.
Successful football teams finish the job.
Liverpool reached the League Cup and Europa League finals last season but lost on both occasions, while Barcelona added to their La Liga triumph with victory in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals.
Xavi took his tally of trophies at Barcelona to 25, while Allen’s trophy cabinet remains empty.
So Rodgers’ assessment that Allen is the “Welsh Xavi” is quite off the mark. The similarities extend to their position, similar stature and Allen’s occasional knack of performing an impressive path.
That’s where the comparison ends.