Jordan Henderson appears to be one of those so-called ‘marmite’ players – loved by some, hated by others. Personally I think he is criminally under rated and the popular perception that he only offers hard work is a ridiculous misconception. Liverpool’s captain has been hampered all season by a heel injury, a condition known as Plantar Fasciitis that affects the band of tissues running under the sole of the foot. It is a painful condition and that has been clear in how inhibited his movement and general play has looked this season. Against Borussia Dortmund, it was not the heel injury that took him out of the game though, it was a clash with Marco Reus that resulted in Henderson falling awkwardly and causing lateral collateral ligament damage that could see him ruled out for 8 weeks.
If that prognosis is accurate, not only will his season with Liverpool be over, but also his hopes of playing in Euro 2016 with England. I don’t doubt there will be many who see that as a positive, both for Liverpool and for England. Whilst I acknowledge he has not had a good season, certainly by his standards, I firmly believe the heel injury he’s carried since August is largely behind that. The consistency he showed from December 2012 until the end of last season are testament to the quality he possesses and ability to perform at that level week in, week out.
Coaches will tell you that attitude is more than just a discernible quality and Henderson has proved he has a first class attitude. When Brendan Rodgers arrived at Liverpool, he deemed Henderson surplus to requirements, but he turned down a chance to go to Fulham as he was determined to prove himself at Liverpool. No moaning, no complaining, no running to the media, he simply kept his head down, worked hard to improve and took his opportunity when it was finally afforded to him. Henderson’s performances in the second half of 2012/13 were one of the leading positives I took away from that season. He also played an integral part of the exciting team that blew many an opposition away in the emotional rollercoaster that was 2013/14. The standard and consistency he attained during that 18 month spell he largely maintained last season, when he also added more goals and assists to his game.
As you can see above, Henderson’s contribution in the Premier League of goals and assists for Liverpool were on a trend of constant progression that reflected the increasing influence he was having on the side. Last season he also became vice-captain, quite a turnaround for a player on the verge of leaving just 2 years previous, and whenever he stepped in for Steven Gerrard he did an admiral job, displaying the growth in stature he had undergone at the club. Henderson was seemingly blossoming under the increased responsibility and continued to prove his mettle and fortitude when faced with a challenge. Character is not a word Liverpool fans are too fond of, but Henderson has proved he has it in abundance and means he will undoubtedly come back from the disappointment he’s endured this campaign.
Although Henderson has not played to anywhere near the best of his abilities this season, Liverpool’s Premier League statistics with and without him in the side make very interesting reading. With him in the line-up they have a considerably higher win percentage, earned points per game, scored more goals per game and conceded less than without him. Henderson may be a polarising figure, but those are very telling statistics and do suggest that even though he may not be enjoying his best form, he is still having an influence when in the team.
Aside from the injury he’s been carrying, Jürgen Klopp’s preference of playing a central midfield two does not appear to suit Henderson as well as when operating in a three man midfield. Playing in the trio allows Henderson to push on more, to press in attacking areas where he so effective and make intelligent runs in and around the box. His off the ball running is something he is not given enough credit for and the same can be said for his passing, particularly in creative attacking areas. That energy, passing, creation and off the ball running will be missed by England in this summer’s Euros if, as now expected, Henderson misses out as England have moved to favour playing a midfield trio. So, Jordan Henderson may not be appreciated by all when playing, but the stats suggest that his absence will be felt by club and country.