Jordan Henderson has the most difficult job in England.
, who praised the midfielder for a magnificent performance against Newcastle at the weekend.
Henderson’s return from injury was marked in fabulous style, with a rampaging performance during a routine 2-0 win. His passes found their targets and his tackles were clean, whilst he covered the midfield with a prim, bustling efficiency.
"He had to replace Steven Gerrard," Klopp mused to the media after the game. "That’s not a nice job to have."
Klopp’s praise was merited, but it was unsettling. We aren’t used to seeing the former Sunderland man lauded. Why is that?
Since moving to Anfield seven years ago, Henderson has rarely made the headlines. A two-year apprenticeship in the North East hinted at a player with Premier League quality, but nobody was claiming anything outrageous about his talent.
The £20 million Liverpool paid for his services seemed indulgent, even for a club that forked out £35 million for Andy Carroll, but director of football Damien Comolli was quick to reassure the fans.
"He has got all the skill technically that we needed." he said of the youngster’s arrival. "He’s good with the ball, he’s creative, he’s got good passing, he’s physically very good."
In short, he did the simple things well in midfield. Henderson was no Steven Gerrard, but nobody was claiming him to be.
Now, as Gerrard retreats into the club’s history, Henderson has been allowed to perform in his own right and be judged by a fairer standard. The shadow of the England legend doesn’t feel as stark, and the comparisons aren’t as nearly as pronounced.
A new standard
Throughout the sometimes savage criticism, he has continued to do the simple things well, maintaining possession without fuss and performing his tasks dutifully. He has always been a consistent ‘7 out of 10’ player, a middle-manager of the Liverpool midfield, only now he is being judged against those standards, not in juxtaposition with one of the country’s greatest ever midfielders.
That isn’t a criticism of Henderson’s ability, either. Rather, it is an exhortation of it, praise for a man extracting the maximum from talent much-maligned. The strength of character needed to assume Gerrard’s role, both as midfield lynchpin and cajoling captain, is thoroughly impressive. Henderson has handled the succession adroitly.
"You know what you are going to get with Hendo," marvelled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the weekend. "He is so solid, a big rock for us. He helps control midfield and dictate the game both on and off the ball."
The comments sum Henderson’s qualities up. A teammate to be depended on, a leader in the centre of the park, and a stabilising reference point when things go awry. They were all characteristics ascribed to Steven Gerrard. Now, they are being used to describe his successor too.
A chink in the armour
Henderson’s fitness, however, continues to be a worry. 53 appearances across the past two seasons speak of a man for whom durability remains a serious concern. That his injuries have held him back is incontrovertible.
When he’s fit, though, there are few midfielders as complete in the league. He might not get noticed all the time, but his quietly humming displays are as vital to Liverpool as any Mohamed Salah goal or Roberto Firmino pass.
What do you think of Henderson’s ability? What does he bring to the Liverpool midfield?