The Reds used to get many divisive players in their ranks but the skipper appeared to dominate the position where it’s occasionally debated can the team be updated conversation. This was until recently.
Towards the company end of this 2018/19 season, Liverpool No.14 stepped up. He was relishing the chaotic moments in the last third, linking up well with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah and, possibly most of all, there was a definite purpose to his match.
From the box-to-box function, Henderson was flourishing. His output was a talking point for some but, generally, he was affecting drama. This carried over into the new effort. Freed from the number six role, the Liverpool captain seemed to get a fresh lease of life marauding down the right flank for the Reds. At one point during the battle against Manchester United, he was being used as a right-winger, just as he had been during his debut season at Anfield.
While Henderson did an admirable job as the midfield general for quite a few years, he was, in contrast, fairly limited and frequently extremely passive. While Fabinho would attempt to play with that incisive ball on the top, the captain would rather look to maintain ownership.
Sometimes frustrating, there was a sense that with Henderson as the strangest midfielder, the Reds lacked a little tempo. But in Fabinho’s absence, the league leaders have been in their dominant best and the England international is being famous for his performances.
People will not like to admit it but the 29-year-old had not had many standout moments as Liverpool skipper.
However, his showing against Barcelona at the early Champions League victory changed that. On the night, he had been everywhere and the hug he obtained from Jürgen Klopp after falling into his arms full-time was the least he deserved.
The challenge was for him to do this again. And again.
Very few, however, expected him to string together the run of performances he has handled since replacing Fabinho in that No.6 position. He has been utterly dominant for at least a month now.
Henderson finally resembles a Liverpool leader on the pitch. The confidence gained from lifting the Champions League trophy, followed by the Super Cup and, eventually, the Club World Cup appears to have lifted a burden from his shoulders.
There’s currently a self-belief to his game he’d previously been missing.
There’s currently a swagger to his match.
Klopp once said that for Sadio Mané to be a world-class player he had to get used to the fact he is world-class. The same logic can be applied to Henderson. For most of his Liverpool career, he has been in Gerrard’s shadow. Now from it, he seems the real deal. And for those thinking the Reds would endure without Fabinho sitting in front of the defence, the form has been shown from the Sunderland-born midfielder is threatening.
It’s the type of thing Gini Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino are usually praised for.
Henderson went from averaging 72 touches when Fabinho was beginning to surpass the 100 mark on a per 90 basis. He’s currently averaging 98 passes, well up on the 55 that he had been trying before the Brazilian’s injury.
The Liverpool skipper has dramatically improved his passing accuracy, also, finding a team-mate with 90 percent of his tried passes. Formerly, when he was being set up in a more complex role, his average was down at 77 percent. Dribbles are up, forward passes have risen, long pass precision is 40 percent better off and final-third entrances have shrunk.
This is a brand new Henderson. He had been called the Man-of-the-Match at Liverpool’s 2-0 triumph over Sheffield United and Klopp heaped praised on him later.
“Gini (Wijnaldum) and Hendo, particularly, since they have been required to play with the biggest number of matches this year,” the German said.
“What they do is simply incredible — absolutely extraordinary. I don’t take that for granted for a single second. If anybody who’s with us still does not observe the standard of Jordan Henderson, then I am unable to help them.”
From pundits to fans into the manager, everybody is discovering Henderson’s performances. To stick out in a team comprising Virgil van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold, Salah and Mané requires some doing. Nevertheless, Liverpool’s No.14 is doing that. For the first time in quite a long time, the captain looks at ease in his surroundings, and the world champions seem better for this.