Plagued by a persistent heel injury and with Liverpool linked with players such as Granit Xhaka – is Jordan Henderson’s place assured, especially as Liverpool captain?
The long awaited return of Daniel Sturridge against Aston Villa showed the almost worrying difference he makes to this Liverpool team. Of course, his presence and goals will always be much needed, but his inclusion only papers over the flaws and lack of go-to players at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal.
The centre of Liverpool’s midfield, in particular, has become an uncreative hub and one of those who has to take some of the blame is Jordan Henderson.
Amidst all the upheaval and change since the beginning of the season, it’s easy to forget at times that Henderson is Liverpool’s captain. He took the armband following Steven Gerrard’s departure at the end of last season and has had to put up with a change of manager, injury lay-off and Klopp’s new brand of football. So it hasn’t been plain sailing for the former Sunderland man.
Although he has been slowly nursing his way back to full fitness since he returned from a heel injury, Henderson’s return was never going to be greeted with the same expectancy as that of Sturridge’s. And in a nutshell that is the problem with Henderson. Just how important is he, and will he be in the future, for Liverpool?
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He isn’t disciplined enough to sit in front of a back four like Lucas, and he is never going to have the eye for a defence splitting pass like Coutinho does, so is his role in the side (and that of captain) justified? Does Klopp feel obliged to pick him so frequently because was made captain before Klopp arrived at Anfield?
Henderson has certainly come on in leaps and bounds since he signed for Liverpool in 2011. His first two seasons saw him come in for some fierce criticism, and he was written off by many as another example of a club paying over the odds on young British talent.
During that dizzying 2013/14 season, though, Henderson began to win over many Kopites with some excellent performances from an advanced midfield position. Gerrard’s legs weren’t what they used to be so he sat deep allowing Henderson to get forward and support the likes of Suarez, Sturridge and Coutinho.
The massive comedown that was the following season saw no let up from Henderson as he was one of Liverpool’s better players during a terrible campaign.
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One of the problems which Henderson currently faces, though, stems from that heel injury. He has been told that he may have to get used to playing through pain, potentially for the rest of his career. If that is the case it can only be a matter of time before it hinders his ability.
Another problem for Henderson is the emergence of Emre Can. The young German’s game is similar to that of Henderson’s; he likes to be involved at both ends of the pitch and isn’t shy of getting stuck into a tackle.
Both of them also share that annoying habit of over passing the ball in their own half and playing too many safe passes, but you would imagine it won’t be long before Klopp gets that out of their systems. Of the two, it can be argued that Can has more potential to go on to be a long term success for Liverpool.
Although he is guilty of poor decision making at times, Can is one of very few Liverpool players that supporters will be happy with right now. Still only 22, Can has the ability to go on to be one of Europe’s top central midfielders.
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That he has been ever present since Klopp arrived proves the managers faith in him. The fact that Klopp is a big fan of his fellow German and the rumours linking Liverpool with a move for highly rated Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Granit Xhaka this summer doesn’t bode well for Henderson.
Xhaka is comfortable playing anywhere in midfield and, like Can, offers a physical presence at 6”1. According to German newspaper sources, Klopp met with Xhaka’s agent only last month to discuss a potential move to Merseyside. Whether that’s true or not, the fact that Liverpool are being linked with a physically strong central midfielder shows that Klopp feels he needs reinforcements in that area.
Of course – if Liverpool were to sign Xhaka – Klopp could easily have him, Henderson and Can as his midfield three. Would he be inclined, though, to field three midfielders whom play so similar?
Whether it’s Xhaka or whoever else, a strong central midfielder is a must buy this summer. That addition would present another problem for Henderson. If Klopp were to pay £25 million plus for a central midfielder, surely he and Can would be two of the first names on the team sheet. That leaves one more midfield place to be filled, and not automatically by Henderson.
He’ll face stiff competition from Milner, Lucas, Allen, Stewart and Brannagan. Of course, not all of those five may be at Anfield come the beginning of next season, but at least two surely will be there to challenge Henderson for that remaining midfield position.
The front three of Sturridge, Coutinho and Firmino picks itself (provided they stay injury free), so Henderson doesn’t have a chance of playing in a more advanced role. If Xhaka, or a player of his ilk, comes in for big money in the summer, Henderson may have a battle on his hands to remain in Klopp’s first eleven.
When he took the armband, no one expected Henderson to replicate the performances which Gerrard was famous for. If he wants to remain in the first team, and as Liverpool captain, he may have to elevate his game to somewhere near the level of the man he replaced.