In a season where Liverpool’s ‘SAS’ partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez has grabbed all of the headlines and made an unlikely title challenge possible, it may seem odd to talk up Jordan Henderson’s importance in the side.
Having scored an impressive 76 goals in just 29 Premier League fixtures, the plaudits are quite rightly going towards the Merseysiders’ front pairing.
But despite this, the role that Henderson has played in an improved Liverpool side this season has not gone unnoticed by his manager or the Reds’ fans.
Speaking after the 3-0 humiliation of bitter rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford, Brendan Rodgers spoke directly about the importance of Henderson and midfield partner Joe Allen in the victory.
With both players covering 11 kilometres during the game, the Liverpool manager reserved the biggest praise in his post-match interview for the midfield pair, labelling their performances as “exceptional.”
It’s all a far cry from the shaky start that Henderson made to his career at Anfield.
As part of Kenny Dalglish’s ill-fated approach to the transfer market, Henderson was signed for £20 million in 2011 as part of a clear plan to sign British talent.
Even with the premium added on to British players’ market values, the fee seemed excessive for a player that had actually struggled to hold a spot in the Sunderland starting eleven.
Maligned by many of his own fans, Henderson found himself out in the cold under the new management and was almost sold in Rodgers’ first transfer window on Merseyside as the makeweight in a deal for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey.
Fast forward to the present and the former Sunderland midfielder is now considered an integral component of Liverpool’s midfield alongside Steven Gerrard.
Rodgers has even gone so far as to praise his predecessor for the “shrewd” acquisition of the player once and possibly still castigated as a big-money flop.
Talk about a change in fortunes.
Frequently altering his formation and tactics and on a game by game basis, the Liverpool manager has utilised Henderson in a number of roles for his side and has praised the midfielder’s versatility.
Speaking earlier in the season, Rodgers stated that “in all the systems, what you get from him is a work-rate and a mentality and Jordan has got quality.”
Having featured as a wing back, a winger, a holding midfielder and a more advanced playmaker, it is obvious to see that Liverpool’s ‘Marathon Man’ has won over his manager.
In the recent 4-3 victory over Swansea, Rodgers outlined his view of the midfielder’s importance to his side. Speaking after the game and Henderson’s two goal performance, he said “Jordan showed great leadership today” and that he was integral in “driving the team on.”
A look at Henderson’s statistics for the campaign emphasises the increased role that he has played in Liverpool’s attacking play this season.
With players still jostling for a spot in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Brazil, it has been been noted by fans and journalists alike that the Liverpool midfielder has created 50 chances in the league this season. In terms of Englishman, it is a figure only surpassed by midfield partner Steven Gerrard and Southampton’s Adam Lallana.
With three goals and six assists in the Premier League so far, Henderson’s contribution in the final third has improved dramatically over the last twelve months. Talk that he could be Steven Gerrard’s long term successor at the club that seemed ludicrous a season ago doesn’t seem so fanciful now.
Indeed, Rodgers sees Henderson becoming a vital player in the club’s long term future and said that at “at 23, he’s only going to get better.”
With the Liverpool captain now restricted by his age to a deeper lying role, Henderson has been allowed to to advance more readily to great effect.
This upturn in form has not gone unnoticed in the media, with Match of the Day in particular dedicating a large amount of discussion to the midfielder’s improvement.
A quick search of his name on Twitter reveals that a number of fans are championing the midfielder’s case for a spot in Hodgson’s final twenty three, especially ahead of the much derided Tom Cleverley.
For now though, there is an unlikely title challenge for Henderson to focus upon.
The performances of Sturridge and Suarez will likely continue to dominate the headlines. But Henderson’s form this season has won over his critics and his importance to the side is clearly recognised by his manager and the fans.
To think he was almost swapped for Clint Dempsey.