Jurgen Klopp has moved to defend Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson from criticism, praising the divisive midfielder for his recent performances.
Henderson has endured a difficult campaign, hampered by further injury as he struggles for form, but he has produced some strong displays of late.
Most recently this came in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle United at Anfield, with This is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan describing it as an “emphatic return.”
He has not been able to convince the entirety of the Liverpool support, but speaking ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League clash with Porto, Klopp urged Henderson to ignore his critics.
“He knows what I think about him and what Gareth Southgate thinks about him,” he said.
“Can Jordan improve? Yes, of course, he’s young enough to do so. But is he a very strong player?
Yes, 100 percent as well.
“That’s why he is playing for us, why he is our skipper, and last game was outstandingly good from him. In a lot of parts it was a really good performance.
“[He] controlled the game, switched the sides, his passing range was brilliant, did the right things in the right moments.
“Very aggressive, very good in defending, he was patient, won the challenges.
“He’s a really good player. There’s not a second of doubt in my opinion, but he can improve for sure.
“He has the most difficult job in England, to replace Steven Gerrard.
“Hopefully people don’t think about that too much anymore, and see him as an individual, as a fantastic football player.
“But I always thought he did really well, to be honest. So when he is fit he is a really, really strong football player.”
Henderson could be among those left out in midweek, with Liverpool five goals to the good and with a huge top-four clash with Man United to come on Saturday.
But Klopp’s latest praise for the 27-year-old suggests he could remain a staple at Anfield beyond the end of the season, despite reports the Reds will sign a new No. 6.
With Emre Can set to depart on the expiry of his contract, Napoli midfielder Jorginho has been reported as one of the club’s priority targets.
If the Italy international did arrive, it is likely he would take Henderson’s place, joining Naby Keita in a new-look midfield alongside the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
There seems to be real conviction in Klopp’s steadfast defence of the captain, however, though in referencing his fitness he may have given an indication of long-term concern.