Liverpool need Jordan Henderson in their starting XI – that’s now very clear. The last two games have been a struggling his absence.
It wasn’t too long ago that Henderson had a question mark over him in the Liverpool side. Was he actually any good or did Liverpool merely need a placeholder before they sign someone better?
A funny few years
The 17/18 season saw Liverpool reach the Champions League final and Henderson played fine over that campaign. He was hardly a weak-link but he also rarely impressed. Playing in the holding midfield role, the captain often struggled to impose himself on games – and that was an issue.
And thus Fabinho arrived that summer, putting Henderson’s place in jeopardy. The Brazilian didn’t force his way into the first-team until March, however, but once he did, Henderson needed to switch roles.
He did that fantastically well, playing on the right of the midfield three and playing some of the best football of his career.
This season went a little differently and in an unexpected way. Fabinho picked up an injury in November, forcing Henderson back into that holding midfield role.
And the Reds actually improved, particularly in defence as they kept ten clean sheets over the next two months. Henderson got even better, prompting Andy Robertson to name the captain as his player of the season.
Henderson kept that form going over the rest of the season and something is now very clear. His ability to perform and push the team forward, wherever he is in midfield, is unique to the squad. He’s developed into an elite midfielder over the last two years, perhaps not on the ball, but with how he can run a midfield.
Without Henderson in the side, the Reds lack a midfielder who can control the game. They have some excellent players who are capable of brilliant things, of course, but no one who can dictate a midfield.
Just look at Henderson’s final game before the injury. His pressing v Brighton helped create two goals inside two minutes, one of which he scored himself.
That’s something that the Reds sorely missed against both Burnley and Arsenal. As Alisson Becker said after the latter, the Reds’ ‘mental aspect’ wasn’t there.
We don’t think it’s a coincidence that Liverpool lacked that in the absence of Henderson. Liverpool play better, look better, and carry the right mentality when he’s in the team.
The Reds’ first league defeat of the season, 3-0 v Watford, came when Henderson was missing. It was a game where Liverpool couldn’t react to struggles. These last two results merely continue the pattern.