Liverpool are having a real problem replacing Jordan Henderson. It’s difficult to know how to fix it.
Jurgen Klopp started with Naby Keita against Real Madrid. It was a brave decision and, unfortunately, the wrong one.
But we can see his thinking. Liverpool wanted to overrun Real’s ageing midfield with all the energy they could muster.
Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Keita should have provided that. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of control, leadership and discipline.
Liverpool didn’t press properly, nor did they cover the full-backs adequately. They couldn’t get their foot on the ball in midfield, either, regularly giving it away.
All of these things were fixable if Jordan Henderson were available but Liverpool can’t replace him when he’s out – it’s become a real problem. Nothing showed it better than picking Keita over Thiago.
Klopp wanted energy and pressing at the cost of experience and control. He had to pick someone and leave out another – there was a sacrifice.
Henderson offers all of that. He’s one of the best pressing midfielders in the world and a world-class presence. The captain offers the leadership, experience and control that Keita doesn’t.
So it’s a massive problem that Liverpool can’t replicate what Henderson offers. They can only bring in part of his game, sacrificing the rest.
Because make no mistake – Liverpool are a very different animal with Henderson in midfield. In this crazy, disappointing season, they remain unbeaten with the captain starting in midfield.
In fact, Liverpool have lost just one Premier League game in over two years with Henderson starting in midfield. That came against Manchester City the day after the Reds confirmed the title.
But he wasn’t there for the 3-0 defeat against Watford last season. He was absent for the 7-2 loss against Aston Villa. Henderson was in defence for the awful run of form to start this year, too.
We’re not sure how Liverpool fix all of this. Do they sign someone who offers what Henderson does? Does that player exist?
Perhaps the trick is to mould a young player in his style.
But those are all long-term fixes. As for the second-leg against Real Madrid, Klopp will have to pick his sacrifice once again. Let’s just hope it’s the right one this time.