Since Jordan Henderson’s arrival at Anfield back in the summer of 2011, he has divided the Liverpool fanbase like few before him. Yet, he has remained an integral part of the midfield for both club and country on a long-term basis.
The midfielder has earned over 300 Liverpool appearances under three different managers in the eight years since Sir Kenny Dalglish brought him to Merseyside.
On Saturday, it will be exactly seven weeks since Henderson lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy. The former Sunderland midfielder must have taken great delight in silencing his critics by lifting the most coveted prize in European football.
But that was then and this is now. Henderson will be well aware that time stands still for no man. At 29, the Liverpool captain knows he has a huge season ahead of him if he plans on staying in Jurgen Klopp’s first-team plans for the foreseeable future.
In 2015, Henderson was handed the unenviable task of replacing club legend Steven Gerrard as The Reds’ captain. Liverpool’s number 14 met the challenge head-on and seems to have brought his own unique traits to the table – earning the plaudits from his teammates who claim the man from the north-east of England is the ideal go-to leader off the pitch.
Yet, the question remains, with Henderson having been used as a fill-in defensive midfielder for over four years now, does Klopp think enough of his box-to-box abilities to play him on a regular basis in the more forward-roaming midfield role?
Fabinho arrived last summer from AS Monaco in Ligue 1. After a drawn-out settling in period, the Brazilian has finally made the anchorman position his own at Liverpool. Many would have thought this could have meant the end of Henderson’s time in the famous red jersey. Not Jordan, though.
Last April, Henderson wowed fans with a fantastic cameo appearance in an advanced midfield role at Southampton. He came off the bench to help orchestrate Liverpool’s 3-1 win with a goal and assist during his half-hour on the pitch.
Four days later, fans were largely positive after Klopp played a midfield trio of Fabinho at the base with Naby Keita and Henderson in front of him. Along with Keita, Henderson provided the energy and forward runs from the centre of the park to link with Liverpool’s front three and it worked very well indeed. That was against FC Porto at Anfield in Liverpool’s 2-0 Champions League victory.
Klopp did the same the following Sunday in a much more difficult encounter – this time against Chelsea in the Premier League. Again, Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners in an impressive all-round display.
We didn’t get to see that particular triumvirate again, however. Though it could well be something Klopp and his staff have taken note of for next season.
With just 21 league starts in 2018/19, Henderson only equalled Fabinho’s total and edged Milner’s 19 times in the starting lineup. When compared to Gini Wijnaldum’s 32 starts, it’s clear to see who Klopp places most faith in on a regular basis. But it has to be taken into account that Fabinho was only settled in the ‘number 6’ role for the second half of the campaign, meaning Henderson has just had a few months to impress in his more attacking position.
Klopp’s Liverpool has no shortage of fixtures to come over the next ten months so Henderson will get plenty of opportunities to show what he’s capable of when breaking the lines between midfield and attack. He needs to take every chance he gets, though, because with a fully fit Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain vying for the same place in Klopp’s eleven, Henderson is certainly up against it.
The good news for Henderson is that he only missed four games due to injury last term (stats courtesy of transfermarkt.co.uk) and after a full summer off his body will be up to the task.
In 2019/20, Henderson will most likely be played at a similar rate to what he was involved in last season. Liverpool’s captain knows he would be doing well to get near 30 Premier League starts with all the competition in The Reds’ midfield.
One thing Henderson is, though, is a fighter. He won’t be accepting a secondary role at the club just yet. Henderson will battle on to represent Liverpool to the absolute best of his ability in as many games as he can.
It just might not be as often as he likes.