Luis Suarez has once again been the main man for Liverpool this season, but the players behind him have been just as noteworthy – particularly Jordan Henderson.
The former Sunderland midfielder has often been put in the same bracket as James Milner – the athletic and hardworking midfielder, who fails to excite the neutral fan that consumes most of their football through Match of the Day highlights. This reputation could be about to change though.
Henderson’s stature, which has been remarked upon by Sir Alex Ferguson’s jibe about his running style, means he doesn’t have the guile of Coutinho to amaze fans, but that doesn’t mean he is a bad player. The extortionate price Liverpool paid, £20million, was always going to add more pressure to the youngster and the slow start to his career in the North West didn’t help the situation.
This season Henderson has blossomed, especially since the injuries to Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard, as he provides a vital clog in Liverpool’s fluent attacking moves. The increased importance on the side has seen Henderson start every league game (20), more than the 16 starts in 2012/13, and already surpassed the amount of time played by over 250 minutes.
The area where Henderson’s game has progressed the most is his range of passing, from simple passes to keep the opposition moving or to creating a goal scoring opportunity for Suarez, with whom he has constructed a good relationship with; as well as looking more comfortable in possession, successfully using little flicks to get away from opposition players is example of this as well as the through-balls threaded between opposing defenders. Attributes like these have seen Henderson share the record of being Liverpool’s top chance creator from open play (34) and assist maker (5) with Luis Suarez.
There’s been an injection in the rate of creativity from Henderson since November. He’d only created 11 chances between August and the end of October. Since then, as you can see below, he’s gone on a rampage and created a further 28 chances. Furthermore all of his clear-cut chances (definition below) and goal assists have been created in since November too. When Liverpool have required their players to stand up the two names that come to mind are Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling.
Clear-cut chance: A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range.
Jordan Henderson has also been attributed with two second goal assists (definition below) which is more than any other player in the squad. This indicates that he’s heavily involved in the build up play for the goals that Liverpool score.
Second Assist: A pass/cross that is instrumental in creating a goal-scoring opportunity, for example a corner or free-kick to a player who then assists an attempt, a chance-creating through ball or cross into a dangerous position.
A replacement for Gerrard was what Henderson was mooted as when he joined Liverpool and the performances on the pitch are finally starting to back up this claim. The athleticism previously mentioned means Henderson can patrol up and down the pitch with ease and the excellent darting runs from midfield in recent matches have been reminiscent of Gerrard at his peak.
There are still areas he needs to improve, most notably his finishing with only a 4% chance conversion rate this season, but at the age of 23 he still has plenty of time to develop his game before he hits his peak.
A short break this weekend against Oldham in the FA Cup will be needed to recuperate after a tough and exhausting run of fixtures. The outlook for the future looks very good for Henderson and continuing his impressive performances will see him secure a place on the plane to Brazil in the summer.