If only the Jordan Henderson of 2012 could have seen what would come further down the line.
Back then, the midfielder was seen as disposable by then-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who wanted to trade him in for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey. The deal never materialised, Henderson stayed and Rodgers left in 2015, to be replaced by Jürgen Klopp, the man responsible for unlocking the former Sunderland man’s true potential.
Under Klopp, Henderson has continually improved and evolved, transforming himself from big-money disappointment to Liverpool’s essential beating heart. Surely not even Henderson could have predicted in 2012 that one day he would captain one of Liverpool’s greatest-ever teams to their first league title in 30 years.
Indeed, Henderson’s renaissance from flop to fulcrum was neatly capped when he won the FWA Footballer of the Year award for his contributions to the 2019/20 title-winning campaign.
It’s been intriguing to track how his tactical role has shifted this season after playing numerous positions last campaign. In the Merseyside derby draw with Everton, for instance, he assumed a more attack-minded remit in midfield with Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara both adept at winning the ball and progressing play from deep.
This led to Henderson being more prominent in the final third with an xG as high as 0.44, as per understat. This is rare for Henderson, who last managed an xG nearly as high as that against Leicester City in September 2017 (0.43).
As early as the fifth minute, Henderson could be seen attacking a Sadio Mane cross, narrowly missing his header as Everton cleared for a corner. Then, just before half-time, he screamed into the six-yard box before being denied a certain goal thanks to an excellent piece of last-ditch defending by Ben Godfrey.
Early in the second half, Henderson blazed over from the edge of the area and was then denied the winner his attacking exertions warranted in injury time due to Mane being adjudged to have strayed offside in the build-up.
Henderson wasn’t quite as attack-minded against Sheffield United, posting an xG of 0.03 after being shifted further back in midfield following Thiago’s injury.
That did not stop him from progressing Liverpool’s play, however, as he completed 35 of his 38 forward passes (as per Wyscout), including three of six into the Blades’ penalty area – indeed, it was his exquisite first-time cross that led to the opener as Roberto Firmino converted the rebound after Aaron Ramsdale’s save from Mane’s header.
Henderson’s progressive approach in midfield was recently highlighted on Twitter by Ninad Barbadikar, whose graphic showed that the Reds skipper is averaging more forward passes per 90 than any other player this season.
While recognised playmakers such as Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes…