Jordan Henderson’s rash decision to slide in, studs up, in an effort to make up for his poor control against Manchester City last weekend, resulting in a straight dismissal, won’t be the act that loses Liverpool the Premier League title. Far from it. It simply means Brendan Rodgers, excellent in his decisions for the majority of the season, will be tested once more to show just how progressive he can be.
For three of the next four league games, Liverpool will be without a player who has battled the demons of 2011, the misfortune of arriving at Anfield on a ship destined to sink. Almost everything was against the former Sunderland midfielder that prevented him from properly kick-starting his career at the club.
Henderson’s improvement and role at Liverpool now means his suspension will have brought about a sense of frustration, rather than doom. It’s not akin to losing either Luis Suarez or Steven Gerrard. It’s an inconvenience that means Liverpool’s path to glory will see them through some muddy terrain. But rather muddy than mountainous.
Rodgers has shown himself to be unable to sit on what he has. He’s constantly tweaking, moving pieces around; thinking, always thinking a few steps ahead.
He hasn’t been as erratic in this second half of the season. The base of the formation has generally stayed the same. The major reshuffling has come in attack, where Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling will either be moved about the front three or dropped deeper into the midfield. It’s all been to gain a tactical advantage over the next opponent.
It’s why it’s hard to see Rodgers coming up short in the task of finding a replacement for Henderson in the midfield three. The England midfielder’s value is in his energy, his willingness to work and help out defensively. He counters Gerrard’s lack of mobility by offering it himself. Henderson’s own flaws, on the other hand, have been masked by the intelligence of the club captain.
Henderson’s contribution to Liverpool this season, especially since Gerrard moved into the pivot role, has been one of a marathon. He’s been a mainstay in the team – a testament again to the man management of Rodgers. What the manager needs now are a few short bursts from one or two individuals. There’s a reason Henderson has featured so regularly. Expecting another to step in and offer the same contribution is unrealistic.
Joe Allen is an option, one who has performed much better this season than his debut year at Anfield. Lucas Leiva is another who can come in and offer some stability in front of the back four. There is fortune that Henderson doesn’t fall into a specialist category like Coutinho, who the team rely upon for creativity, or Sterling, whose pace is vitally important.
The fact that Lucas is far more settled in the team than Allen means he is more likely to feature, but allowing both players to pick up some responsibility may be best, rather than throwing one of two ‘cold’ players into the mix with so much on the line.
Henderson will be missed, particularly in the home game against Chelsea. But his absence hasn’t gifted Manchester City or Chelsea any great advantage. This will just be another showcase of Rodgers’ managerial qualities to make the most of what he has.