Liverpool returned to the Premier League summit on Saturday after a rampant first-half display was enough to help see off a beleaguered Crystal Palace 3-1 at Anfield.
The ‘SAS’ partnership of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge continued to flourish on the pitch, with both players scoring inside the opening 17 minutes, whilst a Steven Gerrard penalty not long after meant the Reds’ captain has now scored and assisted at least once in each of the last 15 top-flight seasons and ultimately put the game beyond Ian Holloway’s side.
Gerrard, who is now just one Premier League goal away from reaching the emphatic 100 club, earned his deserved plaudits, as did the ever-exciting Suárez and Sturridge link-up play, but the unsung hero that is Jordan Henderson put in yet another fantastic display for the Merseysiders and again proved why he is a key cog in Liverpool’s pursuit for success this season.
Structure and Position: What Rodgers Wanted and Got from His Players
When Brendan Rodgers first arrived outside the renowned Shankly Gates as Kenny Dalglish’s successor last season, Henderson’s future at Liverpool looked bleak as several rumours persisted that his new boss wasn’t instantly sure whether he featured heavily in his plans.
However, it’s been quite the opposite since; the England U21 international’s all-round game has only gone from strength to strength under the former Swansea manager, whilst his reputation as Liverpool’s ‘Mr. Versatile’ in the ranks has also further developed under his stewardship.
Now entering his third-year at the club, the 23-year-old has played as a right-back, a false winger from the left, a central midfielder and also as a man just off the striker in a long list of positions that sheds light on his incredible versatility.
Against Crystal Palace, Henderson was given his favoured central midfield position as Rodgers opted for a 3-4-3 formation which reverted into a 5-3-2 system when in defensive mode. Martin Skrtel was the designated sweeper in the back-line, with both Kolo Touré and Mamadou Sakho playing as centre backs, whilst Raheem Sterling, who created four chances in the game, was the man chosen to fill the right wing-back position.
Gerrard, who has often been used in the deep-lying playmaker role under Rodgers, was given the license to push further forward slightly during the game, as Henderson was the one who operated deeper, but both were instructed to fall back into their own box when adjusting to Palace’s set-pieces.
Whilst Philippe Coutinho remains on the sidelines, Victor Moses was picked ahead of Iago Aspas to play just off the telepathic combination of Suárez (who completed 5/15 of his take-ons) and Sturridge. All three relentlessly caused havoc for their opponents throughout the match by equally drifting freely between the lines.
Passing and Ball Retention: Why Henderson Shone in his Natural Position against Palace
By and large, despite Palace’s impressive start to the game, this was a match Liverpool totally dominated as the hosts finished with 61.5% possession in total, completing 88% (543) of their monstrous 619 passes attempted.
Henderson, who was in the thick of everything that occurred on the field, received the ball from his team-mates 60 times and completed 92% (69/75) of his passes, with 11/12 moving forwards into the attacking third whilst obtaining a 100% (19/19) success rate in the defensive areas.
The ex-Sunderland man kept things neat and tidy when alongside Gerrard in the heart of the midfield, who incidentally made the most passes in the game (74/85) with 87% completion, and with the help of both Sterling and Enrique effectively tracking back, Palace’s midfield trio of Stuart O’Keefe, Mile Jedinak and Jason Puncheon struggled to find any space in Liverpool’s half and were mainly forced into the middle.
In terms of chances created, Henderson didn’t conjure up any against Palace – although that is partly down to a change in responsibility – whilst he created four chances against Sunderland last weekend and demonstrated his willingness to add every dimension to his game.
[sws_blockquote_endquote cite=”Rodgers on how crucial Henderson now is to Liverpool. ” quotestyle=”style02″]I am really pleased with him and his development. He’s been fantastic for us so far this season. He’s a great boy and tactically he’s improved a lot. He is thinking about the game and his positioning on the field and has become a very important member of our squad. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Henderson not only gave Gerrard the freedom to advance but he also presented Moses, who often dropped back to close off the roots of a Palace attack, with through passes into their attacking line, providing opportunities to move onwards and help both Suárez and Sturridge thrive.
He provided the insurance with great effectiveness and swept up play productively, recovering the ball 12 times – the most in a win that not only provided the three points but also gave Rodgers a greater indication that he now has the depth he has craved all summer in order to make Liverpool a competitive force this campaign.
Engine: Henderson Significantly Filled-in for Lucas Leiva in the Defensive Aspect of the Game
With Lucas Leiva, who has won 66.6% (20/30) of his tackles in the Premier League so far, crucially missing through a one-game suspension for reaching five yellow cards, Henderson not only needed to set attacking moves up for his side against Palace, but he also needed to graft and replace his Brazilian team-mate’s tough nature in midfield.
Liverpool made a total of 20 successful tackles during the game and Henderson won 100% (7/7) of his challenges, with three coming in Palace’s half showing his engine to cover all areas of the pitch. He’s a workaholic for the team and made two interceptions down the left-hand side due to being somewhat appointed the evident chief presser on the day.
Henderson made the joint-most blocks (2) with both Damien Delaney and Martin Skrtel and made four successful clearances all from inside his own penalty box.
[sws_blockquote_endquote cite=”Rodgers on Henderson’s defensive competence ahead of the Palace clash.” quotestyle=”style02″]His diligence defensively is also very good as he gets back in, covers and screens. He has done very well in that position [side midfielder], but of course probably his most favourable role would be central. It’s one we’re looking at for the weekend. Wherever you play Jordan, there’s no drop-off. You get the same work rate and mentality. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Although Lucas is the more obvious defensive midfielder, his suspension so early on highlights how he can sometimes be a little rash in his tackling and Henderson has likewise been vital to Liverpool’s increased solidity this season – despite it not being an easy observation.
Whilst the deeper midfield pairing of Gerrard and Lucas gives you good vision, awareness and a nice blend of creativity and steel, they’re both not the quickest and thus Henderson’s speed frequently sees him tuck in and deal with any opposition midfielders looking to make barnstorming runs through the middle with pace and power.
Following the Palace result, Henderson’s defensive work has saw him proceed up the charts as one of the most effective tacklers in the division, winning 65.2% (15) of his 23 tackles so far this season.
With it being a World Cup year, English players will be hoping to do all they can this season to try and impress Roy Hodgson in a bid to gain entry onto the plane to Brazil this summer.
The likes of Ravel Morrison (West Ham United) and Ross Barkley (Everton) have both showed brilliant promise amongst a few others so far, but it’s surprising that Henderson has received such little recognition considering his recent performances have decisively played a part in Liverpool reaching the top of the table – albeit just seven games in.
Whilst Palace shaped-up with the mentality to attack Liverpool through a front three and two midfielders eager to support them, Henderson’s cool head paid off in the end by committing only one foul in Palace’s half and was fouled twice himself in the midst of an entertaining and lively game of football.
Not only was a victory ahead of the upcoming international break imperative for Liverpool, but back-to-back wins when building up to play both Arsenal and Everton away in the next five fixtures will also prove to be fundamental in terms of confidence and preparation.
Whilst there has been many notable performers in the last couple of games: Sturridge climbing his way to the top of the goalscoring charts now with six and the return of the magician Suárez; Henderson’s influence has also been equally as impressive, if not more, and his display against Palace showed that – even though he has been a consistent performer at the club for several months now.