Michael Mongie has a look at what the future holds for Jordan Henderson at Liverpool, with injuries hampering the skipper’s progress.
Liverpool started the 2016/17 season like a house on fire. Although a thrilling 4-3 win against Arsenal was quickly followed up by a 2-0 loss against Burnley, Jürgen Klopp’s side began last season with real intent, shown by their league position in mid-November.
Although being top of the league as early as November is nothing to be overly proud about, there is an argument that can be made that Liverpool were the most exciting side in the league until the turn of the year.
Many would cite the fearsome attack that Liverpool had as a reason for the Reds’ early season prominence and this is quite understandable. Coutinho, Firmino and Mane, backed up by Adam Lallana, ran rampant for three months.
Yet, the role that Jordan Henderson played as a no.6 for Liverpool last season cannot be downplayed.
The summer transfer window and the newspapers that wrote about them were dominated by the big (BIG) money arrival of Paul Pogba from Juventus. The Frenchman cost Manchester United a world record transfer fee of £89 million.
Despite the all the talk being about Pogba and what the Frenchman would bring to Manchester United, Jordan Henderson was the outstanding midfielder in the league until Christmas, when everything possible seemed to go wrong for Liverpool.
Despite missing several months of the season with a troublesome foot injury, Henderson still finished the Premier League campaign high up the charts for various passing statistics.
In just 24 league appearances, the skipper completed a total of 2001 passes with an accuracy of 86%. In contrast, world record buy Pogba completed just 135 more in over 500 more minutes of football with a very slightly lower accuracy of 85%.
While it is interesting to see how Henderson compared to Pogba last season, it really means very little insofar as the captain’s influence on Liverpool’s play is concerned.
A very significant factor in the brilliance of Jürgen Klopp’s side in the early stages of last season was the influential figure of Jordan Henderson in the centre of the park.
While Henderson certainly has his detractors as a player and more so as a captain, the Englishman was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in Liverpool’s side up until Christmas last season.
His ball retention is immaculate, allowing Liverpool’s attackers a higher level of comfort in the final third, knowing that they won’t have to drop in support because Hendo is so unlikely to lose the ball.
What was of particular importance to Liverpool last season was the effectiveness with which Jordan Henderson recycled the ball. He often started chance-creating moves from deep by merely playing a pass which allowed Liverpool more space than the likes of Emre Can or Lucas Leiva are capable of from deep.
While Jordan Henderson is no Steven Gerrard, his passing is of a very high standard and certainly higher than many of his Premier League peers.
How much Liverpool rely on Henderson was revealed when the number 14 was injured, with Klopp unable to call on his captain. When the tempo of the game needed to be controlled better, Hendo was missed hugely with the likes of Can, Lallana and Wijnaldum unable to recreate Henderson’s ability to dictate play.
But that is where the crux of the issue lies: injuries. While Henderson doesn’t get injured as much as Daniel Sturridge does, even though some supporters imply that he does, his injury record is not exactly exemplary.
Speaking to Rousing the Kop in an exclusive interview last month, James Pearce allayed fears that Henderson’s injury record is overly concerning.
Pearce said, “It’s been a tough two seasons for Henderson but I still believe he’s key to Liverpool’s future.
“He should be fully fit and firing for the start of pre-season. He commands the respect of the dressing room and should retain the captaincy.
“Yes, he missed a lot of football last season but he also made 24 Premier League starts and made a huge contribution to that top-four mission. The manner in which he adjusted to that defensive midfield role was very impressive.”
The 2017/18 season will be one of massive importance for Liverpool for a number of reasons. It will be the season where Klopp is truly judged on his successes and failings, Champions League football is set to return to Anfield and it is likely to be the last season for Klopp to tolerate any misgivings from any of his players – including his captain.
While I am one of Jordan Henderson’s biggest advocates, if the former Sunderland man cannot iron out his fitness issues, there could be genuine repercussions regarding his role at Liverpool.
Jürgen Klopp is building a team to compete across four fronts and is famed for not letting sentimentality affect his decisions.
This could mean that if Henderson fails to complete 30 games in a Premier League season for a third season in a row, his position at Liverpool as captain could be called into question.
For me personally, I have no qualms about Henderson as a leader, but his physical condition has left a lot to be desired and, at the end of the day, you need your captain on the field to lead.
The 2017/18 season represents a season of massive importance for Jordan Henderson. He could cement himself in Jürgen Klopp’s plans for the future with a strong and consistent showing in both the Premier League and the Champions League.
Or, with greater consequences, he could have question marks surrounding his future at Liverpool with an inconsistent season and a failure to maintain fitness.