Joseph Kavaloski explains why it is a bad idea for fans to overlook Jordan Henderson.
Thanks to Emre Can’s fitness problems at the start of the season, Jurgen Klopp has been forced to play Jordan Henderson out of position in a deep-lying midfield role. The captain is definitely more of a box-to-box player than a holding midfielder, yet he has begun to adjust well to the different role despite his shaky start.
Unfortunately, it was his less than convincing performances in games against Arsenal and Burnley that continued the outcry from fans for Henderson’s captaincy to be stripped.
Henderson is an ideal player in a Klopp team. He is energetic on and off the ball with tremendous fitness levels that easily carry him through 90 minutes of pressing. The former-Sunderland midfielder is not the most technically skilled player which limits him in certain matches, but his attitude is never to be questioned.
His performances against Arsenal and Burnley were hardly convincing as the captain continually chose the simple pass rather than an incisive one to jump-start an attack, but he has acquitted himself well since those two matches.
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Writing off Henderson after two less than stellar performances was an obvious overreaction by fans and one that ‘Hendo’ will likely prove to be foolish.
Last season was far from his best and that likely played a role in fans’ reactions to Henderson’s underperformance, but forgetting his impact in the two seasons prior is unwise. Henderson had been one of the first names on the team sheet for two consecutive seasons, and he looks close to regaining the form that helped him accomplish such success.
In the title run of 2013/14, Henderson was a key cog in the engine room and his impact was obvious when the Reds struggled through the time he was suspended in the final part of the season.
In 2014/15, Henderson was even better. He acquitted himself well with the captain’s armband in Steven Gerrard’s stead and also added more creativity and end product to his game. Last season was marred by injury and judging his credentials on factors out of his control and two games in which he was played out of position is an obvious overreaction.
Although Henderson has only begun to come into his own in the holding midfield position, his performance this season as a whole is not all that bad. The Englishman has completed an impressive 88% of his 80 passes per match.
Even though Henderson may settle too often for the easy sideways pass rather than an aggressive forward pass, he has still averaged eight long balls per match and created five scoring chances. For comparison, Steven Gerrard only recorded more than eight long balls per match once since 2009-10.
Henderson does not have the passing ability or aggressive mentality that Gerrard employed in a holding role, but he has been a solid if unspectacular option while Can regains fitness. The skipper is solid defensively, averaging an impressive 4.8 tackles and 2.3 clearances per match, and has done a good job of staying positionally sound so as to not leave his defence open on the counter.
Henderson does not have the upside of Emre Can in the holding role, but he has bounced back well from the opening two matches to show that he can be a steady option in the position when Can is unable to play.
Once the German returns from injury, Henderson will likely be redeployed in his favoured box to-box-role. Fans may be expecting Henderson to play second fiddle to Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum in central midfield, but overlooking the captain would be a mistake.
Lallana’s resurgence under Klopp and strong showings to start 2016 make him an invaluable member of the starting eleven, but Wijnaldum has had issues readjusting to a central midfield role.
At Newcastle, the Dutchman was primarily an attacking midfielder, but he has been asked to play deeper at Anfield. Wijnaldum is a talented player who has the ability to be a success on Merseyside, but it is not surprising that he is taking some time to adjust back to the position he once manned for PSV Eindhoven.
Wijnaldum’s indifferent form gives Henderson an opportunity to keep his starting place when Can returns to full fitness. Wijnaldum has only won 1.5 tackles and 0.5 interceptions per match to Henderson’s 4.8 and 0.8 respectively – illustrating the Englishman’s superiority in his work off the ball.
The former Newcastle man is primarily a creative outlet from deep, but he has not performed as such thus far at Anfield with only two assists and numerous instances where the Dutchman disappears from the match.
As Henderson showed in 2014-15, he can be a good attacking player from central midfield with his clever movement. Combine that with his excellent work rate, and Henderson is more of a well-rounded central midfielder when compared to Wijnaldum. This could be key in Henderson keeping his place in the starting eleven when Can returns to fitness.
Henderson’s time at Liverpool has been a rollercoaster ride. From nearly leaving for Fulham only a year after arriving, to becoming club captain a few years later, Henderson has experienced his fair share of highs and lows since arriving on Merseyside.
The Englishman has come out and said that last season was extremely difficult due to his persistent injury issues after being named Liverpool captain, but he is now fit and ready to regain his excellent form from 2013-2015.
He may not be a player whose name will be written in Anfield folklore, but Henderson can be a solid member of the starting eleven that fits well with Klopp’s philosophies.
Writing him off and arguing for his captaincy to be stripped would be a kneejerk reaction towards a player that has been one of few leaders in the Liverpool dressing room and an underrated performer on the pitch.
Can is nearing a return, meaning that Henderson will be restored to his favoured box-to-box role. As a result, Liverpool fans should expect more of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 Henderson rather than the injury plagued 2015-16 player that has brought doubt into the minds of many supporters.