Could Liverpool’s midfield rebuild prompt a new role for Jordan Henderson?

Jordan Henderson recently marked the 12-year anniversary of his move to Liverpool, but its timing comes with major questions over his role in the side.

Henderson joined Liverpool as a skinny 20-year-old and has gone on to lift every trophy possible as captain of the club.

Despite that, the midfielder is far from the most popular player in the squad – at least among the most vociferous voices online.

Nearing his 33rd birthday, Henderson still has two years remaining on his contract at Anfield, but this summer’s midfield rebuild presents questions over where he fits in.

That it comes on the back of a frustrating campaign only adds to speculation that the captain’s role could decrease.

Jordan Henderson, 2022/23

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 20, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 29 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 14
Unused sub: 0
Goals: 0
Assists: 3

Overall Season Rating: 5


Peaks and troughs

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Just like the team as a whole, it was a woefully inconsistent season for Henderson.

There were points when he stepped up to set the tone off the ball and kept it simple on it, but many others where he seemed off the pace and trying too much.

He was central to those heavy wins over Bournemouth, Man United and Leeds, for example, while he played a useful role in the 2-0 win over Everton in February.

There was also a sublime assist for Mohamed Salah in the 3-0 win away to Ajax.

But his tendency to roam became a growing concern as the campaign wore on, with many of Liverpool’s issues in the middle of the park attributed to his positioning.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 21, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace in February saw Henderson deployed as a No. 6 and he routinely vacated that space, while his inability to track runners was exposed in the 5-2 loss to Real Madrid.

Those hit-and-hope whips towards the back post became a source of frustration among supporters – with opportunity after opportunity wasted.

Henderson remained a constant presence, though perhaps that spoke more of a lack of personnel than earning his shirt.


The need for an upgrade

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, May 3, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As Jurgen Klopp shifted to his new system in the final months of the campaign, the manager settled on a regular midfield of Fabinho, Henderson and Curtis Jones.

In doing so, the roles of his two more advanced midfielders changed significantly: both Henderson and Jones were required to operate more as No. 10s.

It revitalised Jones, who ended the season on a run of 11 straight starts, scoring three and assisting one, but Henderson’s output was mixed.

The role may have suited him as a skinny 20-year-old, but nearing the autumn of his career it is fair to ask whether this is the right use of his ability.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 9, 2023: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson looks dejected as Arsenal score a second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While it may have been by design, there was clearly more emphasis on Jones as the overlapping presence on the left, with Henderson instead more withdrawn.

This came amid ongoing interest in Mason Mount, who seemed tailor-made to provide cutting edge and stability in that right-sided role.

The prospect of Mount joining Liverpool has now faded, but in a summer in which two more midfielders are expected to join Alexis Mac Allister through the door, it seems likely that Henderson could be replaced as first choice.


A new role in the squad?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 30, 2022: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Milner, captain Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson celebrate with the trophy after the FA Community Shield friendly match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at the King Power Stadium. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That is not to say that Henderson should be moved on – it is, after all, almost impossible to imagine Klopp parting ways with his No. 14 now.

Instead, a new vacancy may have opened up for a player who already saw his number of starts reduced in the campaign just gone – from 43 in the quadruple challenge of 2021/22 to 29 in 2022/23.

James Milner‘s departure not only leaves a gap to fill in Liverpool’s leadership group, but also a useful spot as Klopp’s utility man.

The vice-captain’s industry and versatility saw him start at right-back, left-back and all three midfield positions in his final season at Anfield.

He did so with limited minutes, but was also vital in seeing out games and when leading less experienced sides into the fray.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 22, 2022: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson (C), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (L) and Andy Robertson (R) arrive before the FA Premier League match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As Liverpool bring in a new generation of midfielders, it is realistic to suggest that Henderson could soon take up that mantle from his outgoing team-mate.

It would be wrong to claim he has nothing more to give, with his energy and urgency valuable qualities, but perhaps they would be better used in shorter bursts.

There is a convincing case to argue that, at a push, he could even step in for Trent Alexander-Arnold in his new hybrid role.

The 2022/23 campaign seemed like the end of an era, and the captain’s role should now be to help usher in a new one.

Best moment: The trivela assist for Salah away to Ajax.

Worst moment: Bypassed in the 3-0 at Brighton.

Role next season: Klopp’s new utility man, replacing Milner.