Jordan Henderson: How Liverpool star has become complete midfielder

Jordan Henderson: How Liverpool star has become complete midfielder

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Danny Murphy joins Jermaine Jenas and Mark Chapman on MOTD2 on Sunday at 22:30 GMT on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights of Liverpool v Manchester United.

Is Jordan Henderson underrated? No, not by me – or anyone who has played against him or watched him regularly.

I have been pretty vocal for quite a long time about his qualities and contribution for club and country – he was arguably Liverpool’s best player in the second half of last season and he has carried on in the same vein in the current campaign.

For me, he is now the first choice in his position for the Reds and for England, but he had to work hard to earn that status and win over some of his critics.

‘Coming out of Gerrard’s shadow’

Henderson, shown here taking the captain’s armband when Gerrard was substituted during a game in January 2015, was named Liverpool skipper when Gerrard left the club that summer

It has not always been plain sailing for Henderson at Anfield, and I think he suffered at first from being compared to Steven Gerrard – which was unfair.

That was an easy thing to say when he signed aged 20 in 2011, because he was a young England midfielder, but he was not like Gerrard, because no-one is.

It was always going to be impossible for him to live up to that. As a player he is the best he can be, but he will never be able to do the things that Gerrard did.

Playing alongside Gerrard at first was not very helpful because when you are around one of the best midfielders there has ever been, you are never going to look as good as him.

It is only since Gerrard left in 2015, and the team started evolving under Jurgen Klopp, that people have been able to see Henderson’s own qualities.

At 29, he has grown into a complete midfielder, and is a fantastic example of someone making the absolute maximum out of their ability.

Klopp has often pointed out how much he values Henderson. Speaking after Liverpool beat Sheffield United at the start of January to go a year unbeaten in the Premier League, Klopp said: “If anyone who is with us doesn’t see the quality of Jordan, I can’t help him. Is Hendo the perfect football player? No. Do I know anybody who is? No. Is he unbelievably important to us? Yes.”

‘A wonderful array of qualities you need as a midfielder’

Henderson’s reliability is one of the things that makes him stand out – he is an extremely consistent performer.

His athleticism is a big reason for that. It allows him to maintain his levels for the full 90 minutes.

But there is more to his game than just having high energy and being a player who is always full of running. He has a wonderful array of qualities that you need as a midfielder.

His influence and ability to lead others has just grown and grown over the past couple of seasons, and so has his quality on the ball.

Again, it is not something that has just happened recently but, as his confidence has grown, his range of passing has increased and he is now more productive and creative.

He used to get criticised for making too many sideways passes but it was not about direction, it is called playing safe. A lot of midfielders do that when they are trying to establish themselves in a team, or keep their place, because giving the ball away is the worst thing they can do.

Henderson does not have to worry about his place any more, because he plays such a vital role in this Liverpool side – well, not just one actually.

One of the biggest compliments you could pay him is that he nailed down the holding midfielder position and became pivotal there for a while. Then, with Fabinho’s emergence, he adapted back to being more of a box-to-box player.

While the Brazilian has been injured in the past few weeks, he has gone back to his old position and it has not affected Liverpool at all.

Jordan Henderson heat-maps
vs Crystal Palace (23 Nov) & Wolves (29 Dec)
Henderson played in his regular position on the right of a midfield three in Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on 23 November (left) and constantly got forward, but he has filled in as a holding midfielder while Fabinho has been out injured. His heat map on the right came in the Reds’ 1-0 win over Wolves on 29 December and shows how he takes up much deeper positions in that role.

‘Defensively sound, and an attacking threat’

His versatility is really important for Liverpool but he does not just fill a gap – he brings something to every position he plays.

When he plays on the right of Liverpool’s midfield three, I think it benefits Trent Alexander-Arnold so much more than when anyone else is there, because the full-back knows he can trust Henderson to fill in behind him, and they can work together going in both directions.

Jordan is an attacking threat there too – he has the ability to put some really good cballs into the box and, even from deep, his ability to run off the ball into attacking areas is really crucial for Liverpool as well.

On the defensive side of things, his speed makes him particularly effective at the press but he is also is great at spotting danger, is very disciplined positionally and is switched on so he tracks runners.

‘The perfect fit in this Liverpool team’

Jordan Henderson in the Premier League in 2019-20 (and rank* in midfielders)
* = minimum of 900 minutes played
Minutes played1,443 / 1,980 (45th)
Assists2 (=23)
Chances created18 (=42)
Passing accuracy84.61 (24th)
Passing accuracy in opposition half79.75 (33rd)
Passes into final third165 (8th)
Tackles42 (17th)
Blocks3 (=46th)
Interceptions17 (=40th)

Some players seem to get defined by their statistics but that is not how you would ever try to evaluate Henderson, or his importance to his team.

None of Liverpool’s midfielders hit the numbers that, say, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne does in terms of assists or chances created but you cannot measure Henderson’s role in the same way. Football is not about individuals, it is about the collective, and Henderson is crucial to what Liverpool do.

It helps he has got a manager in Klopp who loves the type of player he is, and plays a style that suits him.

A team that uses a low block and defends deep to try to make games into tighter and more tactical battles would not suit Henderson.

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But his energy and ability to do the yards and cover every aspect of midfield suit what Klopp wants perfectly. It is a great match.

He fits perfectly into this Liverpool team and the way they play, and it is the same with England. If he is fit, he will start every game at Euro 2020, because it is not just Klopp who appreciates him.

Whatever Henderson’s numbers are, ultimately he captained the champions of Europe last season and is leading a team that are breaking all sorts of records this time around.

I think that says more about him than any statistic ever could.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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