Liverpool have got to thank Jordan Henderson for his display against Leeds United on Saturday. It was a performance that went far under the radar.
The Reds struggled to a 4-3 win over Leeds. Going forward, things went well – they scored four times, after all. Defensively, however, it was disastrous.
Here’s a statistic for comparison. It took fifteen Premier League matches until Liverpool conceded twice last season. And that came in a 5-2 win over Everton with a weakened side. Liverpool conceded two goals inside the first 30 minutes against Leeds – both from defensive errors.
Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold both struggled to deal with the first. Then Virgil van Dijk made a glaring mistake to allow Leeds a second.
They’d even go on to bag a third. Liverpool didn’t concede three in a Premier League game until February 29th last season.
Thank God for Henderson, then. Without him, it could have been so much worse.
It’s cliche to label something a ‘captain’s performance’ but this was virtually the definition of one. To explain how, we’ll go over some statistics from Henderson’s teammates.
Gini Wijnaldum started the match alongside Henderson and Naby Keita but was the only one to complete 90 minutes. In that time, he managed just 17 passes with 35 touches – far and away the fewest of any outfield player. He was tackled twice and dribbled past twice. He also missed two tackles.
Keita had a better game. Defensively, though, Keita blew hot and cold. He made three interceptions, for instance, which was more than anyone else in Red. But he didn’t attempt a single tackle in his 58 minutes. Leeds tackled him three times.
So keep all of that in mind when reading Henderson’s statistics. He managed 44 touches in his 66 minutes – nine more than Wijnaldum managed in 30 more minutes (although, credit where it is due, one fewer than Keita). The captain attempted one dribble and completed it. He was not dribbled past once. He attempted four tackles and made them. Leeds didn’t tackle Henderson at all.
In short, Henderson was ridiculously reliable. When everyone else struggled to stay consistent, the captain kept his head and made sure things were as steady as he could make them.
That in of itself is impressive. But it’s even better when you consider he hasn’t played football since his injury against Brighton in July 8th. He didn’t have a pre-season like everyone else and didn’t even feature for England in midweek.
So to come in and be the most reliable defensive player on the pitch is truly outstanding. Just take that tackling stat. Out of the eight starting midfielders on either side, his is the only perfect success rate. The next highest is Kalvin Phillips, who attempted three but only made two.
Without him, Liverpool would have struggled even more than they did. Fortunately, the captain stood up and played as the only cool head behind the front three.