Liverpool have started the season fairly slowly, picking up just one point from their opening three league goals and hitting the back of the net just twice, but along with Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey has proven himself to be a young player capable of making the step up and he may have just usurped Jordan Henderson in the pecking order at the club already.
So far this season, Shelvey has featured twice in the league and four times in Europe, which when you compared it to the fact that all of Henderson’s appearances so far have come in the Europa League and it becomes clear which player Brendan Rodgers trusts more.
In both games, the new boss had a change forced upon him somewhat, with Lucas Leiva pulling up through injury against Manchester City, Shelvey came on in the fifth minute and adjusted brilliantly and settled into the match, helping Joe Allen control the midfield. He went on to complete 88% of his passes, with 44 of his 50 attempts finding a team-mate and it was by far his most accomplished display in a red shirt to date yet.
Shelvey sounded enthusiastic about Rodgers vision and his own part to play in that just the other day: “He’s given me a fair crack of the whip and I finally have a chance to prove my worth. The way the manager likes us to play football suits me down to the ground. I just want to keep going now. As well as myself he’s given Adam Morgan, Raheem Sterling and a few others a chance to get into the team.”
Ever since signing from Charlton back in 2010, as one of Rafa Benitez’s last moves at the club, he has been highly regarded by both Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish but was used sparingly until the end of last term, when during the midst of a league slump, he was handed a longer run in the side, with a goalscoring performance in the 4-1 win over Chelsea at home the most impressive.
Not only is he capable of keeping the ball for prolonged periods, he also offers a more direct threat, as he showed in England’s U-21 game against Azerbaijan last week where he set up one and scored the other in a crucial 2-0 victory, winning man of the match in the process.as well as myself he’s given Adam Morgan, Raheem Sterling and a few others a chance to get into the team.
Henderson, though, appears to be little more than a Europa League player at present, given a run out to rest the likes of Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva for league duty. There was a hope that under a new manager, one who had talked positively about his potential and ability in the past, that he may flourish this term with less pressure on him, but it just hasn’t happened so far.
If reports are to be believed, both Henderson and Stewart Downing were offered in part exchange to Fulham for Clint Dempsey as the clock ticked down on transfer deadline day, which in itself points to a limited future at Anfield for the 21-year-old, as the club continued to grapple with a lack of funds.
The new manager seems determined to make his own mark on the side and he hasn’t been shy in marginalising the big-money purchases of the previous regime, with Andy Carroll moved out on loan to West Ham and Stewart Downing now in the process of being converted into a left-back; there’s a worry that Henderson may fall into this trap too.
There’s no denying that he struggled for long spells last campaign and that he’s always going to struggled to justify the weighty £16m fee, but Henderson is a composed, disciplined and most importantly, still young player with plenty of potential. As much as Shelvey’s rise to prominence at the beginning of this season has been a welcoming sight to see, the continued reluctance to start Henderson in the league is a bugbear.
A new manager is supposed to solve problems that have carried over from the previous regime and with a strict budget this term, the emphasis on Rodgers getting every last drop out of his existing squad is equally as important.
However, there’s a sense that instead of tackling how best to go about integrating the likes of Downing, Carroll and Henderson into his side, that he’s just taken the easy route and given up on them at the first sign of trouble and the arrival of Nuri Sahin will not help his chances of breaking into the side one little bit.
Shelvey clearly has a bright future at Anfield and he appears to have bought into Rodgers methods of retaining possession quickly, but there’s a concern that Henderson is being tarred with the same brush as other failures despite his age and he’s most definitely on the fringes of the first-team now, behind his England U-21 colleague.
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