The first Merseyside Derby of the 2014/15 Premier League looked set to end with a comfortable 1-0 victory for Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, before a sensational stoppage-time equaliser from Everton centre-back Phil Jagielka stunned Anfield.
It was a moment of pure footballing immensity, and one fitting the stage perfectly; one can only sit back during these moments and savour the drama as it unfolds, as this is the essence of watching football, after all.
Deflated Reds must do so during this tumultuous start to the season under Rodgers—with just seven points from six league games so far, Liverpool now find themselves 12th, wedged between West Ham United and rivals Everton.
One bright positive to take from this draw, however, was the performance of Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson throughout.
Taking his place alongside Steven Gerrard in the midfield on Saturday, the Liverpool No. 14 turned in a performance of sheer quality.
(Video courtesy of MrBoywunder)
It may go without saying, with work rate a hallmark of Henderson’s game under Rodgers at Liverpool, but the midfielder’s ability to harry the opposition, read the game and win challenges in the Merseyside Derby was second to none.
Whilst Everton were on the back foot for the majority of the game, Henderson was on hand to stymie any advances Roberto Martinez’s men made with a series of astute challenges.
The Spaniard chose to give summer acquisition Muhamed Besic a first start for the club in the most high-profile of encounters, no doubt hoping the Bosnian’s hard-edged approach would add bite to proceedings.
However, Henderson had the No. 17’s number from the off.
With Besic receiving possession early in the first half, Henderson was quick to the Everton man’s feet, not allowing the midfielder any time on the ball in order to gain a grasp on the game.
Henderson, deployed alongside Gerrard as the base of Rodgers’ midfield, was surprisingly often found offering support to right-back Javi Manquillo, with Everton’s Besic, Kevin Mirallas and Leighton Baines often overloading the young Spaniard.
This was vital, with the limp Lazar Markovic offering little from the Reds’ right flank.
As well as providing cover for Manquillo with regularity, Henderson’s engine stretched to incorporate the deficiencies in midfield partner Gerrard’s defensive game.
This could be seen quite remarkably with the 24-year-old outpacing Gerrard in order to block the run of Mirallas, with Henderson’s 34-year-old counterpart struggling to keep up with the rapid Everton man.
Henderson doing the job of 2 players in midfield.
— Matt Ladson (@mattladson) September 27, 2014
Furthermore, Henderson’s work rate was behind what was perhaps the move of the match for the Reds on Saturday, outlining the midfielder’s ability to build on his defensive work to open up the opposition.
With the ever energetic Raheem Sterling complementing his advances, Henderson was able to slide the teenager in with a precisely weighted through ball.
44 mins: Henderson intercepts the ball and releases Sterling in the box, but his drive is pushed behind by Howard
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 27, 2014
Sterling was unable to find the net with his resulting effort, but Henderson’s ability to carve out chances from what was initially the build-up to an opposition attack is remarkable; this season the midfielder’s drive is matched by his tactical nous.
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 27, 2014
What has developed alongside this work rate this season is Henderson’s passing range, and the midfielder now boasts an immaculate delivery.
These are far from all sideways passes, as is often the case with statistically imperious central midfielders (see: Scott Parker, 2012), and this has already been seen in Henderson this season with a pair of assists so far.
Henderson’s lofted through ball, delicately poised to reach the advancing Mario Balotelli, in the first half signalled the midfielder’s intentions alongside Gerrard—the Reds captain is renowned for his passing qualities, but Henderson would not be outdone.
Henderson displayed a canny ability to spot a pass with a swiftly switched ball out to Sterling on the left flank after receiving the ball 35 yards out.
Furthermore, this shows Henderson’s footballing intelligence—one of few redeeming features on show for the Reds so far in a dismal start to the Premier League season.
Manquillo returned the favour in supporting Henderson in the attacking sector, too, and the England midfielder’s slide pass through to the onrushing Spaniard on the right flank carved open the Everton defence.
The right-back was unfortunate not to find Balotelli with the resulting cutback.
Jordan Henderson completed 4 key passes in the first half, more than any player involved so far. pic.twitter.com/7y0qDggZry
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 27, 2014
Far from just a pair of persistent legs, Henderson has proved so far this season that his developing creative game will be an invaluable asset for Rodgers moving forward.
Eye for Goal
It is often levelled at Henderson that, to become a truly great midfielder, the Liverpool man will need to start chipping in with more goals—presumably, Manchester City’s free-scoring legend Frank Lampard has served as a reminder in recent weeks.
At the start of 2014/15, Brendan Rodgers challenged Henderson to score “upwards of 10 goals this season,” alluding to the Lampard touch “because he has the quality and the tactical nose to arrive in the area to do that.”
Against Everton, Henderson looked intent on making his mark on Tim Howard’s goal.
Firstly, in the opening stages, a curled effort after having been found by Sterling on the edge of the box—and the partnership between the two is becoming as crucial as the teenager’s with Daniel Sturridge—was unfortunately blocked by the alert Howard.
It is important to note, in this image, that there are a total of seven Everton outfield players in their box; Martinez’s side were structured so as to frustrate the Reds into chances such as Henderson’s.
After the introduction of the lively Philippe Coutinho, replacing Markovic, Liverpool did manage to create more, and it was the Brazilian’s shot, blocked by an impressive John Stones, that led to Henderson’s second attempt of the game.
A beautifully struck shot on the rebound, Henderson was again unlucky to find his effort too close to Howard in the Everton goal—the technique shown by the Englishman to get above the ball is encouraging, however.
This attempt in particular saw Henderson arrive in a fashion perhaps less reminiscent of Lampard and more of the Gerrard of old.
Continue to develop this knack, and Henderson will have no trouble reaching his season’s goal.
Minutes Played – 90
Total Touches – 80
Total Passes – 65
Key Passes – 4
Total Shots – 2
Shots on Target – 2
Tackles – 5
Interceptions – 3
Passing Accuracy – 91%
Overall performancing rating: 8 out of 10.
Do you agree with Jack’s analysis? Let us know in the comments below.