The match between Liverpool and Manchester United last Sunday reignited the passion that symbolises English Football and brought to the fore the local rivalries that exist to provide the required impetus for the success of the Premier League. While Steven Gerrard’s early departure from the game marked the headlines, pundits were quick to point out Manchester United’s dominant display in the first half. The game was set to be a battle of midfield’s and it didn’t disappoint. At the fulcrum of the sides were two young central midfielders: Henderson and Herrera, and in this article we compare their performances over the course of the season.
Deployed primarily as central midfielders, both Henderson and Herrera act as the lynch-pin between attack and defence, assuming newer responsibilities with the flow of the game. Over the course of the season, Herrera has attempted close to 70 passes per 90 minutes trying to stitch together an often fragmented line-up. Before your mind wanders in the direction of Gary Neville and Daley Blind, since a midfielder is mentioned from the red half of Manchester, I need to bring to your attention that primarily, Herrera has been a forward passing midfielder. Jordan Henderson, on the other hand, saw off a weak start to the league campaign with tireless performances for Liverpool in the middle of the park, courtesy of which the club still stands a chance of European qualification. He averages close to 60 passes per 90 minutes with close to 60% of them being forward passes, essentially indicating a willingness to go forward that comes naturally to his game. However, it has been Herrera who has been more efficient with his passing averaging close to 90% pass completion per game compared to the Englishman, whose average hovers around 80%.
Both Herrera and Henderson have been crucial to their team’s creativity and add substantially to the attacking prowess of their respective teams. While Herrera does have a better assist to game ratio, Henderson has shown better creativity on the pitch even through the difficult spells endured by the Merseyside club. He averages a chance every 55 minutes compared to the 72 minutes per chance for Herrera. Henderson’s efforts gain better credentials when it is brought to the notice that the former Sunderland midfielder has not had a very successful forward line to feed into. However, it is also necessary to mention that Herrera has had restricted playing time per appearance due to the constant shuffling done by Van Gaal and has made 7 of his 18 appearances from the bench, affording him less time to leave an impact on the game.
Henderson has provided us with some stunners this season and his goal tally stands at 5 goals, which many believe is at least 5 less than what he should be contributing through the season. The future LFC Captain will have big boots to walk in soon and one thing those big feet did very well was find the back of the net. On the other hand, with the likes of Falcao, Di Maria, Van Persie, Rooney and Mata, Manchester United fans will be more than happy with the work rate of Herrera coupled with his technical abilities that provide a balance not often seen in the side under LVG.
The horse-like performance of Henderson hasn’t gone unnoticed and he was once termed “wasteful” and “overpriced” has nevertheless been a force to reckon with since last season. Often seen covering more ground than his team mates and opponents alike as well as improving on his technical capabilities with every passing game, Hendo has overtaken the “first man on the team sheet” honour from one Mr. Steven Gerrard.
Both Henderson and Herrera showcase a central midfielder who loves to get into duels to break down the opposition. While Herrera has entered into higher number of tackles per 90 minutes and has a higher number of successful tackles per 90 minutes, Henderson has a better efficiency at winning tackles. While we might be led to believe that Henderson’s style of play would include a lot of fouls to break the opposition’s rhythm, it is actually Herrera who often makes those harmless fouls to organise the line up and break the opposition. Henderson has shown good capabilities on the ground as well as in the air, a completeness that is probably lacking in Herrera’s game.
On the defensive end, there isn’t a lot to differentiate the players on the whole. However, Herrera has displayed a far outstanding ability to break plays with interceptions (33 in 18 appearances) as against his peer Henderson who has 28 from 29 appearances, which in itself is not a bad number for a player in his position. Henderson’s primary contribution to the defence of his team has been clearances while Herrera has been busy making sure the loose passes result in a United possession. In a tough league like the Premier League, where the competition for each spot can go to the boil, the fewer mistakes, the better the chances. Herrera has been privy to 2 defensive mistakes so far this season, thankfully none of which resulted in a goal. Any mistake this late into the season could prove fatal and Herrera, with his professional experience will know that.
Henderson and Herrera going head to head on Sunday provided an excellent battle of the younger generation midfielders out there to fill large boots and they both did exceptionally well. While Henderson can be defined as a combative end to end midfielder full of energy and the ability to drive the team forward, Herrera has been the keystone to United carving out important victories while his teammates often claim the accolades (conferred by the media, his teammates would value his work more than anyone else).
Herrera is still a work in progress. He arrived in Manchester with a large bill and a larger weight of expectation to help the club turn around the misfortunes of the last season, and he has done precisely that, albeit too quietly for the liking of many critics who believe he is the key to United finishing strongly this season. His abilities in defence as well as attack make him a player who could very well establish himself as the engine of the legendary club.
Jordan Henderson, on the other hand has already established himself as the engine as well as the future of this Liverpool side under Brendan Rodgers. He will have big shoes to fill when Gerrard departs and how he copes with the additional pressure attained then will truly define his place in the echelons of the club’s history. He has improved faster than most Premier League players over the last 24 months and should he display a similar growth trajectory, the Kop will learn to live post the Gerrard era faster.