He’s not a scouser. He’s not Steven Gerrard. He’s not even going to score you 10 goals a season. But who, cares? This is Jordan Henderson.
I can confidently assure you that without a player of Jordan Henderson’s composure and ability, Liverpool would not be as near the top of the Christmas tree as they currently are. The last time we saw Liverpool mount a title challenge, Henderson was in impeccable form. The two seasons since have seen Hendo’s form dip considerably due to injury and an inability to bear the weight of the captaincy. No reason to worry about either now.
I could very easily throw some arbitrary stat about his passing at you to convince you of his influence on this Liverpool team – he’s completed the most in the division with 1437 which is only five times less than Sunderland – but it’s very easy to dismiss stats as not representing the whole picture.
For instance, I can just hear you itching to ask, “He may have completed 1400 – or however many – but how many of those have been sideways or backwards?” This is a very respectable question, but it completely disregards the nature of the new role that Jurgen Klopp has assigned to the skipper.
In Liverpool’s new look 4-3-3, Henderson’s job is to tackle and dispossess opponents and then play the safe pass in order to keep possession and allow the team to get forward and create scoring chances. As such, his tackling record is impeccable. He makes 2.87 tackles per game which, according to Squawka’s comparison matrix, works out to 46 in total. Similarly, in keeping with Klopp’s gegenpressing philosophy, Henderson isn’t passive at all and looks to steal the ball back which is reflected by his 29 interceptions this season.
Despite Klopp assigning Henderson a new role this season, it hasn’t stopped him from contributing at the other end of the pitch. Defensive midfielders, even in the modern game, aren’t expected or obliged to chip in with goals or assists and yet, Hendo has been. With one goal and four assists – and that goal being that peach against Chelsea – the Liverpool captain is helping his attackers out more than enough. It’s also worth remembering the pass which split Crystal Palace open for Firmino’s delightful chip at Selhurst Park.
What Henderson has been criticised for the most in recent years, or since Steven Gerrard retired, is the fact that he has struggled to bear the burden of the Liverpool captaincy.
Even the most staunch Henderson advocates would agree that when Henderson first took on the captain’s armband full-time, he struggled to replicate the form and influence on the team which earned him the honour of being Liverpool’s skipper.
Few people wanted Henderson to be captain, despite failing to name a more suitable alternative and it’s very possible that it was purely because there was a disbelief that Steven Gerrard would no longer lead the club forward and this represented a period of mass uncertainty.
So far this season, under Jurgen Klopp, Henderson looks refreshed and is the model captain. While he did score a 30 yard screamer which led many to compare him to Steven Gerrard, his captaincy, like any, is completely unique and is more about constant encouragement and communication than about leading by example or inspiring his team to victory with man of the match performances. Due to the balance of the Liverpool team, with natural match winners in Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and more, Henderson can focus on his behind-the-scenes job which is more essential than some may realise.
When Leicester City won the Premier League last season, the unsung hero was N’Golo Kante. With Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez taking the plaudits for the match-winning displays, the French midfielder went about his business quietly, mopping up in front of the Foxes’ defence. This season, without Kante and more football to contend with, Leicester’s Premier League season is more reminiscent of their first season after promotion than their second.
Henderson is Liverpool’s N’Golo Kante. He might not be as widely recognised as Kante for being a quality defensive midfielder, but his importance to Liverpool is as great as the now Chelsea man’s was to Leicester.
Liverpool are hot on Chelsea’s tails in the Premier League title race and are looking to tidy up what has been a shaky defence for several years now. Poor goalkeeping, defensive errors and general lack in quality have been some of the reasons for the lack of solidity at the back for the Reds, but with Henderson, there is composure when playing the ball out from the back. As Henderson drops between the centre-halves when in possession, he often operates as a third central defender but it’s the transition out of possession and into defence that Henderson and his centre-halves need to rehearse.
In football, winning is the only essential, everything else is a bonus. It’s for this reason that Henderson will only be recognised for his true qualities if he wins trophies with Liverpool, and more importantly the league title and as much as Gerrard made the red number eight iconic, Henderson is making strides towards making the number 14 his own.