Liverpool fans love a moan whether it be over the lack of a true centre-forward in the side, a midfield lacking in goals and defensive solidity, a back-four that’s an accident waiting to happen or Klopp’s rotation policy amid a rigorous fixture schedule.
However, the strongest degree of scrutiny from supporters seems to stem from the captain himself, Jordan Henderson often brandished unsuitable for the role.
For some, Liverpool’s capitulation against Sevilla can be placed at the Englishman’s door, with a lack of leadership and authority in midfield failing to bring a sense of calm to an increasingly disjointed second-half performance.
We’ve seen some of the very best performances this season come in games where Klopp has opted for Emre Can or Gini Wijnaldum in a double-pivot rather than Henderson.
That speaks volumes in itself, with the 27-year-old’s tendency to pass sideways or dwell in possession allowing the opposition to regroup and shut off space to Salah and co.
Take Liverpool’s 7-0 rout against Spartak Moscow, for example. This was one of the biggest games of the season and Henderson had to settle for a place on the bench. Not only that, The Reds produced a barnstorming performance in his absence, showing fluidity and verve throughout the pitch to seal their place in the Champions League knockout stages, raising questions as to whether Klopp’s side are evolving without their captain at the helm.
The former-Sunderland man has some useful attributes including a strong passing range and energy, but can often provide a restrictive figure to the free-flowing football Klopp is trying to employ. What made Henderson so important to Rodgers’ side in 2013/14 was his surging runs from deep, adding an extra man in the final third and subsequently freeing up space for his teammates.
Albeit a wise choice for captaincy when Steven Gerrard left the club, Liverpool have since moved on from his appointment in 2015, with the 27-year-old often found out by high-class opposition when utilised as the deepest lying midfielder – a position that’s seen his movement heavily constrained, serving as a disadvantage to both he and the team itself.
Achieving a 64.29% tackling success rate confirms that Henderson isn’t thriving as a defensive midfielder. It’s not his forte to screen the back four nor chip in with tackles and do the dirty work to shut out the opposition.
That’s not to say that he’s a bad player, in fact there are those that highlight his importance to Liverpool’s title challenge, with the red card against Man City a clear turning point in the season.
However, too many times this season the back-four have been left exposed and made to take the brunt of criticism, albeit some justified, while Henderson’s absence has also seen Klopp’s side flourish in an attacking sense.
Add to that a certain midfield maestro from Guinea and Henderson’s future in this side comes further under scrutiny.
Plying his trade for RB Leipzig in a 4-2-2-2 formation, Naby Keita has the licence to roam forward and take on the opposition at will while tracking back and showing diligence in his defensive duties.
A quintessential midfielder, the 22-year-old would work well in a transition role; able to recycle possession and show guile going forward in possession in a double-pivot system or Klopp’s heavily utilised 4-3-3 formation.
While not a like-for-like replacement to Henderson, Keita’s arrival will further threaten the place of the skipper. Having used Can and Wijnaldum in the deeper role to good effect already this season, Klopp could opt to do so again, allowing Keita to take up a box-to-box position.
Signing a top quality defensive presence alongside the Guinean who could do a similar job to the likes of Nemanja Matic for United, Fernandinho and Gundogan for City or N’Golo Kante for Chelsea would also make sense, with Emre Can widely expected to be on his way to Juve this summer.
Either way, Henderson’s role in this Liverpool side next season remains very unclear. Some of their best and most complete performances this season have come without the skipper and this side could well be evolving without him.