Pressing Matters

Jordan Henderson’s latest role in Brendan Rodgers’ side may be his most effective yet, argues Hari Sethi.

After his solid game against West Brom, can he hold onto his place in the team?

Since joining LFC in June 2011, the young English midfielder Jordan Henderson has had his fair share of ups and downs.

Though it would be any young player’s dream to earn such a big move early on in their career, Henderson was made to pay the price for the vast sum it took to acquire his services.

Purchased for around £20m, the expectation placed upon Henderson’s shoulders and level of scrutiny the young midfielder came under from Liverpool supporters, was both unfair and misguided.

Such scrutiny should’ve befallen those who spent such an exorbitant amount of money on a 20yr old England international, who although undoubtedly talented, was heavily overvalued by his home club.

Following his move to Anfield, Henderson struggled to impose himself upon a Liverpool team in the midst of an identity crisis.

Though Henderson had earned admirers from his performances playing through the middle for Sunderland, Dalglish saw fit to place him on the right wing, a position the midfielder was both unaccustomed to and ill equipped to perform effectively.

Throughout his time at Liverpool, Henderson has suffered from a willingness to sacrifice his own footballing preferences for the benefit of the team and the midfielder’s ability to be multi-functional has often meant industrious performances go overlooked.

After a confidence-destroying season out of position under Dalglish, many would’ve understood if the young midfielder shied away from the challenge of winning such a critical crowd over and yet submission is a phrase with which Henderson doesn’t seem to register.

After convincing Rodgers of his desire to work hard and make himself a success at Anfield, Henderson has displayed both considerable graft and a tactical nous that belies his tender years.

Though he has continued to display his ability to play in a variety of positions, filling in at right wing back following the injury to Glen Johnson, it has been in Henderson’s return to a central position that the young midfielder has truly begun to flourish.

Following Lucas Leiva’s suspension (through accumulated bookings), Henderson was chosen by Rodgers to partner Gerrard as part of LFC’s central double pivot. The young midfielder’s considerable fitness levels allowed him to relieve Gerrard of his defensive duties and permitted the Liverpool talisman to have a greater influence upon games, albeit from a deeper position.

Yet despite such performances, Liverpool’s midfield balance has seemed out of sorts, with the two sitting midfielders often unable to spread enough to effectively establish a semblance of control within a match.

Liverpool’s tactical flaw has been routinely exposed this season with opponents often finding it too easy to stroll through the middle of the pitch, a feat that Southampton’s pair of Wanyama and Schneiderlin frequently achieved with worrying ease during their side’s impressive victory at Anfield in September.

So although Henderson’s performances were admirable in their intensity and endeavour, it is his latest role alongside Gerrard that has finally seen Jordan  win over even his most persistent of critics.

Following the return of Lucas and Johnson against West Brom on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers finally felt comfortable to flip his midfield triangle, assigning the Brazilian the deeper role of a lone controller, whilst deploying Gerrard and Henderson as an attacking pair, capable of pushing further up the pitch.

Such a tactical reshuffle produced great results, with Liverpool comfortably despatching a West Brom team that arrived at Anfield unbeaten in five league games, including an away win at Old Trafford.

Though Suarez and Sturridge will predictably receive the plaudits for their attacking display, it was Henderson’s considerable athletic performance on Saturday which provided the team with the platform to construct such an impressive win.

As part of the advanced pair in midfield, Henderson’s relentless energy was put to use, as he pressed his opponents tirelessly high up the pitch.

Such a persistent level of pressing allowed Gerrard greater time and space on the ball, enabling the Liverpool captain to focus his formidable talents on an attacking influence just behind the two strikers.

Henderson still has room for vast improvement if he is to truly realise his undoubted potential but considering the endeavour he has shown to enhance both his tactical awareness and distribution of the ball, such progress is steadily being made.

Henderson’s strong performances for the team also places Rodgers in a quandary of sorts, as he considers whether to return the talented Philippe Coutinho back into the team – in place of the industrious midfielder – or force the Brazilian to earn his way back into an increasingly competitive first eleven. 

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