International friendlies are invariably non-events, we all know that, but this was on another level. It was a match that you really only watched in order to get your football fix for the weekend, as a long summer without it awaits.
The Aviva Stadium showdown couldn’t have felt any different from the thrilling Champions League final Barcelona and Juventus served up if it had tried, with both sides playing with a complete lack of flair and gusto.
The fact that the Liverpool quartet of Henderson, Milner, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana all started the game did at least give the game a tiny bit of intrigue.
Henderson, Milner, Lallana and Sterling start for England in their pointless friendly vs. Ireland. Kick off 1pm.
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) June 7, 2015
With question marks arising this week about how Milner and Henderson would both fit into Liverpool’s midfield next season, seeing how they were used was worth watching.
The Three Lions were set-up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Henderson and Milner both starting in the centre of midfield, either side of a deep-lying Jack Wilshere.
They were given the task of offering a box-to-box style, much like Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic do so brilliantly for Barcelona, combining good defensive work with incisive attacking play.
Henderson was one of the more noticeable players on the pitch throughout the first-half, but he was still a far cry from his marauding best.
There was a presence about him not always evident, perhaps lending hope to the notion that he is only going to grow as a player in the absence of Steven Gerrard.
A clever, stylish turn in the middle of the park early on did show the natural ability the 24-year-old has- something that goes unnoticed far too often by his detractors- but his passing was either too safe when it didn’t need to be, or unpredictable when he tried something more flamboyant.
Paul Scholes: "I don't think Henderson can pass like Wilshere." What's that mate?https://t.co/6YHDrb3DhE
— BetGOAT (@BetGoatUK) June 7, 2015
A powerful run and clever link-up with Lallana inside the box almost led to an opening goal, highlighting Henderson’s ever-improving ability to get into the box. The Liverpool captain-in-waiting needs to start adding more goals to his game if he is to go up another gear.
Milner was comfortably the quieter of the two in the first-half, and one lazy, over-hit pass in the opening stages seemed to sum up the laid-back nature of the entire match.
The 29-year-old was typically reliable on the ball other than that uncharacteristic early error though, and was as industrious as ever. It wasn’t exactly a 45 minutes to fill the Liverpool faithful with bundles of joy, in all honesty.
Henderson’s terrific pace and pressing almost paid dividends within seconds of the restart, but having won the ball and found the unmarked Rooney to perfection, the Man United man fluffed his lines with a shocking first touch.
The former Sunderland man then saw a long-range effort charged down, as he continued to look among the hungriest of a fairly disinterested bunch of players.
All in all, Henderson kept things very simple. It wasn’t a performance that set the world alight by any means, but he now genuinely looks like he belongs in England’s first-choice starting eleven. That confidence can only bode well for Liverpool.
This Ireland v England game has been a cracker! Long live International football friendlies
— Spion Kop (@TheKopHQ) June 7, 2015
Milner was much more involved in the second-half, and showed exactly why he will end up being a very shrewd acquisition by the Reds.
He saw much more of the ball, using it intelligently and with more urgency than in the first-half, and one good low cross from out on the left was a good example of his hugely underrated final ball.
There was nothing exceptional about the former Man City star’s performance, but he showed Liverpool supporters exactly what he is: a very safe pair of hands who won’t let you down.
Would the system work for Liverpool?
Brendan Rodgers has used several formations since taking over as Liverpool manager in 2012, with the 4-3-3 his most-used system.
Milner and Henderson showed that they certainly wouldn’t look out of place either side of a holding midfielder for the Reds, but there are a few question marks against it.
Firstly, it would mean pushing Coutinho out wide, which given his enormous influence centrally in 2014/15, would make little sense.
Henderson and Milner have many positive attributes to their game, but guile and creativity isn’t necessarily one of them.
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) June 4, 2015
Of course, they can pass the ball well and chip in with a decent number of assists every season, but when it comes to breaking down teams with moments of individual magic, there are better options out there.
With one of Can, Lucas or Allen potentially playing in the deep-lying role that Wilshere took up, the midfield may feel a little too similar in style.
It’s worth stressing that Rodgers gives his midfielders more freedom to express themselves than Hodgson, who has sucked the life out of Henderson time and time again at international level.
It may, therefore, be doing him and Milner a disservice judging them solely on their performance together in an England shirt.
As I mentioned in my Milner-related article earlier this week though, a 4-4-2 diamond would still probably be the system that would get the best out of Henderson, Milner and a number of other Liverpool players.
That said, you only have to look at the energy, consistency and understated quality that Henderson and Milner have to see that they will never let the Reds down in any formation.
Sterling and Lallana
The Reds’ other two players to feature for England endured extremely forgettable afternoons, failing to make an impact on proceedings.
Sterling, in particular, was very disappointing, and played like someone with the weight of the world on their shoulders. [td_ad_box spot_id=“custom_ad_3″]
His confidence and ability to beat players with ease seems to have completely deserted him, and the series of boos he received from the Liverpool-supporting Irish fans won’t have helped matters.
The 20-year-old’s final ball simply wasn’t good enough all afternoon, and barring one curled effort that comfortably missed the target, he was almost unnoticed.
Raheem Sterling becoming the new Nani. All pace, zero awareness / final product.
— Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) June 7, 2015
Hodgson substituted Sterling 65 minutes into the game, on an afternoon when his reputation and attitude once again took a hit.
Lallana is a strange player in a lot of ways, flitting about the pitch and generally looking more dangerous than he is a lot of the time. This was exactly the case against the Irish.
The Englishman was shunted out to the left by Hodgson, and never really looked like having a major impact on the game.
The aforementioned link-up with Henderson was a nice moment, and one rasping long-range shot flew over the crossbar just before half-time, but that was about it. He was brought off with eight minutes remaining, bringing an end to a very forgettable display.
It proved to be a mixed day for Liverpool’s English foursome, and although difficult to judge given the woeful nature of the game, Henderson and Milner should give Liverpool fans a reason to feel positive next season.