Jordan Henderson was loved and revered by the fans some months back but since his return from injury, the player has been criticised severely. Fans have not been very kind to him, which would be underplaying it. Rumours suggesting Tottenham Hotspur would like to buy him in the coming summer have been welcomed. This comes in stark contrast to when the player made himself indispensable in Gerrard’s absence last season and was heralded as the right choice to take over the armband from Steven Gerrard.
So why the recent hate?
There is a startling lack of creativity in the centre of the pitch with Liverpool’s midfielders not offering enough for the attackers to thrive on. The midfield is called the “heart” of the pitch and the lack of an able heart is hurting the Reds. Jordan Henderson must certainly take his fair share of the blame.
The midfielder has also been beset by injuries this term and has missed a significant chunk of games with a broken metatarsal in his right foot, and the heel condition plantar fasciitis in his left. The return from injury hasn’t been easy for the former Sunderland player and it has been noted that his injury issue could never be permanently solved. Henderson has said that he can get used to playing with the pain but if that’s the case, the problem definitely is serious and would hinder his game. There is absolutely no doubt that the England international possesses serious ability — you don’t become a full international player having represented your national side at the World Cup without that — but perhaps there really is a problem somewhere.
Is the 26-year-old playing more than he has the capacity to? Is he not getting the right sort of support in the midfield? Is the captaincy holding him back? Whatever the reason, there is a visible decline in output from last season and the season before.
The point is that if Liverpool are to compete with the best, at the top level, they cannot rely on Henderson every week. The Englishman is arguably not at the level Liverpool need him to be, if they are to constantly challenge for trophies and compete in the Champions League. The likes of Xhaka and Gundogan, who has been linked with Liverpool, are definitely more exciting if nothing else.
However, Henderson is still in an important part of the squad and selling him would hurt Liverpool in the long run. When Liverpool’s second half capitulation against Southampton was taking place, a player like Henderson could really have been of use on the pitch — someone who could provide some guile and character in the middle.
It is understandable that the player shouldn’t be used in every match, which means his position as Liverpool’s captain should be under threat; however, he should certainly be kept hold of in the player capacity. Henderson is most effective while playing a slightly attacking role and the fact that no other English player has more assists than him since 2013/14 illustrates this fact. So far in the Premier League, “Hendo” averages 1.3 key passes every 90 minutes. Last season, he averaged 1.9 key passes every 90 minutes while the number was 1.8 in the 2013/14 season. His tackles and interception stats for every 90 minutes in the league have gone up in contrast. This shows that Henderson is playing with a more defensive approach and isn’t able to contribute significantly in attack, which he is better at and crucially, something that is more evident while watching the game.
The summer will probably see the addition of a defensive midfielder who can partner Emre Can in the midfield. Jordan Henderson would thus be able to play a more free and attacking game in the midfield whenever he features.
Liverpool have played 49 games this season at the time of writing, if the Reds are to play similar amount of games every season — which Klopp would be hoping for — keeping a large squad is essential and the experience and ability of Henderson will come in useful. He has also been part of the club for five years and has a little bit of “Liverpool” in him, something which can come of use when newer additions are made in the summer. This is obviously not a huge factor in the argument to keep him at Anfield but most definitely plays a part as well.
He shouldn’t be an indispensable and undisputed starter in the team, and is arguably not the ideal choice for the captain, but he certainly shouldn’t be sold, much less to a direct league rival because as shown by his growth in recent years, he has more to offer than he has been doing in recent weeks.