Jordan Henderson nears his Liverpool return and that means judgement for one duo. The Reds are getting into shape.
We’ve seen a couple of returns transform Liverpool over the last two weeks. Diogo Jota, for instance, is back in action.
And his performances as a centre-forward have been pivotal. He created a goal for Mohamed Salah against RB Leipzig and then grabbed the winner against Wolves.
Both came from a direct, faster Liverpool – the kind we haven’t really seen without Jota up top.
Another return stands out – Fabinho. Not only is the Brazilian back and playing regularly, he’s in midfield. The result is back-to-back wins with clean-sheets.
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But it’s more than that. The midfield looks more cohesive and controlled, while the centre-backs have a shield in front of them. That wasn’t there without a proper holding midfielder.
Both Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips looks good at the moment. Fabinho helps – as Phillips admits – but their performances allow Klopp to use the Brazilian in midfield.
However, a question mark looms over everything – Jordan Henderson is nearing a return.
The next one
Henderson hasn’t played since going off against Everton on February 20th. The Liverpool Echo says he’ll likely be out for a month and a half, putting his return date in early to mid-April.
So, post-international break, then. Liverpool won’t have many more games before he’s back.
And when he is back, Klopp has a question to answer: where does Fabinho play? Henderson can play as an elite holding midfielder, too, of course.
With that in mind, Fabinho could return to centre-back, with Henderson taking his spot in midfield. Klopp may feel that’s stronger than using Kabak and Phillips.
But say he does stick with those two – it would mean dropping either Gini Wijnaldum or Thiago to get the captain back in. Either would be a huge decision.
So he only makes it if he completely trusts Kabak and Phillips as natural centre-backs. Trusts them so much, in fact, that he’s willing to drop a world-class midfielder.
On the face of it, that seems unlikely. But having Fabinho and Henderson in their natural positions may trump anything else.
But it requires Kabak and Phillips to look and play like Liverpool centre-backs. Centre-backs capable of winning at the top level, in other words.
Henderson’s return will bring about Klopp’s ultimate judgement on them. They’ve got a few weeks to earn his trust, then.