Jordan Henderson’s recent return from injury was met with immediate and inspiring chants from the Kop with a number of renditions from the fans paying tribute to Liverpool’s irreplaceable club captain.
The England international’s injury perhaps typified more than ever as to just how indispensable Henderson has become to this Liverpool team.
In his absence, Liverpool suffered setbacks in the Premier League, Champions League as well as the FA Cup in what has been the club’s toughest period of the season by some distance.
His inclusion during Liverpool’s European exit to Atletico Madrid saw the skipper on the Anfield turf for 97 minutes as Henderson returned to his deep-lying midfield role in the absence of £40m [BBC Sport] star Fabinho – who was restricted to the substitutes bench.
Henderson’s involvement unlocked a new element to Liverpool’s game and saw the team’s greatest performance since the 4-0 victory at Leicester City as the Reds perfectly executed Jurgen Klopp’s gameplan against the Spanish giants.
Liverpool for 94 minutes absolutely pulverised Diego Simeone’s team who only survived the Red onslaught thanks to the heroics of their world-class goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
With Henderson back in the team, Liverpool unsurprisingly dominated possession. The captain’s ability to dictate the tempo of the game and retain the ball has been hugely missed.
He completed 66 passes with a completion percentage of 82.5, that included 26 forward passes as well as nine-ball recoveries. Considering it was the Englishman’s first match since a hamstring problem sustained at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium it was a hugely impressive return to the mix.
Henderson’s involvement also gave the team greater attacking impetus and enabled one Liverpool star, in particular, to take his game to a whole new level.
Oxlade-Chamberlain produced arguably his most complete performance for the club as his power and intelligent movement caused Atletico a stack of problems with the former Arsenal man – alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool’s most dangerous creative outlets.
The 26-year-old’s display will certainly have Fabinho worried regarding his first-team prospects once the season returns to action. Without the Brazilian, Liverpool thrived and were able to utilise the attacking brilliance of both Oxlade-Chamberlain as well as Georgino Wijnaldum – who produced yet another big European performance for the team.
Henderson’s return to the team also is a positive for Fabinho himself. It enables Klopp to utilise both players in the holding role and will enable the former Monaco star to gradually return to full-match sharpness by easing the workload on the player.
Klopp will most likely continue to tweak is midfield options until the end of the season with players such as Naby Keita and James Milner still waiting for a sustained run in the team.
However, with Henderson back in the mix, no one can take anything for granted. Liverpool’s Champions League-winning skipper has become the embodiment of Klopp’s team and has is the standard-bearer that his fellow teammates aspire to replicate.