Joe Allen is preparing to lead Stoke’s charge at Anfield with an admission from Ryan Shawcross that he can’t believe Liverpool sold him.
Allen was starved of game time under Jurgen Klopp, although he made a big impression on Stoke fans and management as two of his rare starts came against the Potters – and came off the bench to score the winning penalty in the League Cup semi-final.
The 26-year-old then starred for Wales at Euro 2016 before a £13m transfer to the bet365 Stadium – and he makes his Merseyside return as the central figure in Mark Hughes’s plans.
“Joe’s forgiven (for scoring that penalty),” said the captain. “He probably never knew he was going to join Stoke – and after such a brilliant Euros I was surprised we got him. I thought Liverpool would have kept him, especially after the summer, and when I heard we were going to get him I was surprised. For the amount of money as well, it’s a great signing for the club.”
He added: “He’s an even better player than I thought. I’ve always rated him but I didn’t realise he was so good. He’s been our best player this season, our catalyst. He’s the one who sets us off defensively and attacking wise.
“I wasn’t surprised because I had seen him in the Euros perform so well for Wales. It was obviously a bit stop-start for him at Liverpool, he never really got a full run in the team, but since he’s come to our place he’s shown just what a good player he is. He scores the goals and gets assists but he’s also very good defensively. He works ridiculously hard, starts our pressing, and he’s our main player. Hopefully he can put a good performance in, as the team can. I’m sure he’ll be desperate to prove the manager wrong.”
Allen has already scored five times so far in the league for Stoke, more than he managed in 91 appearances for Liverpool, but even his strike to open up a 2-0 lead against 10-men Leicester wasn’t enough to seal three points last time out.
It was a hard result for players and supporters to take – and it will get harder before it gets easier thanks to fixture computer’s Christmas schedule – but Shawcross, who was at Hanley YMCA to serve Christmas dinner and support the Macari Centre this lunchtime, insists no one inside the camp can get carried away.
He said: “Fans at every club get caught up in emotion. If you win a game they get overly positive and if you lose they get overly down – but as a footballer or a football manager you need to keep on a neutral base, as the manager does. We never get too high when we win and never get too low when we lose. We’ve got a good squad and eventually that will show. The position where we finish is where we will deserve to finish.
“We have tough trips to Liverpool and Chelsea where we will try to get positive results – but even after that we’ve got another 19 games to get to where we need to be at the end of the season. Throughout the season we will have ups and downs, win games we should have lost, lose games we should have won. It’s why football is an amazing sport – and if the fans stick with us, they know we’ll put a performance in.”