Liverpool beat Ajax on Wednesday in a game that, yet again, showed the importance of Jordan Henderson. It’s becoming a problem for the Reds.
Liverpool turned to Jordan Henderson for leadership once again versus Ajax. The captain spent the first half on the bench but Jurgen Klopp sent him on for the second half.
Liverpool needed leadership, after all, following an open first-half that they failed to control. And he delivered just that. Henderson was the only midfielder or winger – including substitutes – who wasn’t dispossessed. He helped keep things secure in a stronger second half.
The problem, then, is that this is becoming a pattern. When Henderson isn’t there, Liverpool aren’t the same team.
There’s one obvious game to look at for this – Henderson didn’t play against Aston Villa. But going back to last season, he also missed the 3-0 defeat against Watford, Liverpool’s first of that season.
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Henderson is the player who keeps Liverpool level-headed, the one who makes sure the team has control over the game. The real worry is that he can’t be there every week.
The captain has always had periods where he struggled with injuries since his £20m arrival and he’s only just come back from one. There’s a reason he started on the bench in Amsterdam, after all – Klopp was trying to give him a rest.
But as Liverpool struggled to get a hold on the game, the boss had to throw him on. And the Reds might find that happens quite a bit now that Virgil van Dijk is also missing.
Liverpool are down an authoritative presence for the rest of the season, increasing the need for Henderson. But he can’t possibly play three games in a week, every week. There will have to be games where Klopp leaves him out, especially with a season that’s more compact than usual.
The hope, then, is that Thiago steps up to have a similar effect. If he can help Liverpool control games, then the pressure on Henderson diminishes. He’ll need to prove his fitness, too, of course. But if he does, his composure, experience, and playmaking could provide a similar level of control in games.