Three games, nine points, no goals conceded, top of the league.
And we’re not even playing that well. West Ham, aside we haven’t quite been at our swashbuckling best. Firmino is yet to score and, if viewed objectively, we’ve had to hang on a bit in our last two games so we’re not quite at the 1987-88 vintage where dicked everyone 4-0 week in, week out.
That’s a good thing though. Liverpool, like the idea of America, is supposed to be unfinished. There’s always something to improve and fresh challenges to face. Remember the great Ronnie Moran’s end of season praise for his charges when yet another title was placed safely in the cabinet? Exactly. It was limited, to say the least. He would look around the dressing room, ask who had played the requisite amount of games and then throw a medal at their chest. He then reminds them ‘Pre-season is in eight weeks. It’ll be harder next season.’ The hustle never ends. There’s always a new high to reach.
Three games is a start. Nothing more.
But what a start! It’s been ideal. No one can complain about anything Red related.
Ah, hang on. What about the captain?
The West Ham game was barely over before a GIF was doing the rounds on Twitter. It featured Jordan Henderson pointing at Alisson Becker while Shaqiri was in possession, looking to make a forward pass. The implication being that he’s always negative and wanted to protect the lead rather than extend it further.
Seriously? Is that it?
We win 4-0 and minds are awash with the gallimaufry of Red excitement and someone’s poking Henderson’s ribs.
We won 4-0!
I can’t understand that mentality. I mean, I’m on-board with narrowing eyebrows at a guilty party in a defeat, but on the opening day when we’ve just battered someone and got a clean sheet? Jesus, talk about choosing your battles.
We all have our agendas, of course, and I’m as guilty as anyone. There have been countless times where I’m mumbled a begrudging ‘well in’ to a Red who has done something well (usually defensive) when I’d normally be haranguing them for their faults, but not in the last ten minutes of a 4-0 win when the opposition just want to get off the pitch.
The scapegoat is not a product of modern football. Growing up, I can remember Sammy Lee and John Wark getting it in the neck from the Anfield faithful—European Cup winners both and one of them with 18 goals from midfield in his debut season. More recently it’s been Djimi Traore and Mo Sissoko. That’s the nature of the game. For every Steven Gerrard, there’s a Victor Moses.
There’s nothing wrong with doubting Henderson’s capabilities. To me, he is a decent option and one who can help us win stuff. Not exactly Claude Makelele, but hardly (insert your own poor midfielder of choice here. I opted for Charlie Adam.)
The narrative around the 28-year-old is that he’s largely negative in his distribution and doesn’t create enough. That’s fine if that is his role on the day, but it isn’t always. He didn’t need to force the issue against West Ham as they’d long been blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air and had thrown the towel in. He didn’t need another goal. He had a clean sheet to protect. 4-0 always beats 4-1, particularly if you have a new keeper who is keen to make a good impression. Someone has to mind the shop.
His job when he came on was to shield. Whether you think he’s any good at that is another matter, but he was hardly shamed in the World Cup when his housekeeping allowed Dele Alli to move forward. Henderson doesn’t have to do the goal-making stuff anymore. He’s got four forward-thinking players who are more than capable of doing that for him along with Gini Wijnaldum who can move up in increments to offer support. Someone has to make sure Allison, Virgil and Joe are alright too.
You simply can’t have every player on the pitch focused on attack. Someone has to cajole the side to make the simpler pass, to keep possession and to slow down before driving up the intensity. His role is to set a tempo.
In any case, at one point Van Dijk urged a pass back to the keeper and no one said a word.
Of course, this spreads to his role as captain. Jordan is an excellent captain for me. He’s the right side of policeman and motivator. Watch what happens when we score the opening goal (if he’s on the pitch) and how he celebrates. He’s the first to pull people away from the touchline and tell them to concentrate on the resulting kick-off. Oh, he loves the Reds scoring—see the ‘Hendo hop’—but he knows that someone has to stay in control.
Van Dijk is most people’s favourite to take the armband, but it’s telling that Klopp hasn’t made that change. He sees him every day and continues to toss him the armband.
Maybe then, it’s only right to leave the final word on the number 14 with Jurgen. Speaking to the press back in January, he said:
“For me, it’s quite difficult to talk about obvious things. I would prefer that you (journalists) write it. Are stories only interesting when my name is in it?
“Please, say the message; ‘Jordan Henderson is a very good footballer’. He’s an England national team player and our skipper. And maybe he’ll be the skipper of England – I have no clue.
“That’s the situation – how can he not be a brilliant player if he’s a Liverpool player? If somebody doesn’t see his value, what can I do? Do you think after what I said now, that they will see his value? I’m not sure. I’m very happy that he’s back, you can write that!”