If Henderson is the Solution, Then What is the Problem?

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In the discussion about how Liverpool overcome the sterility in midfield that has affected performances over the course of the season and specifically in Belgrade, many have offered Jordan Henderson as the solution.

Melissa Reddy brilliantly diagnosed Liverpool’s problems. In elaborating a point on “midfield balance” she makes the following key points:

Liverpool plays predictable football, arguing that the player on the ball only has a short or no passing option.

No link between midfield and attack; highlighting Chamberlain’s absence and the importance of a ‘line breaker’ in midfield.

Gini- Milner- Lallana trio too laboured, noting one of the midfielders has to be ‘quick-thinking and a progressive force’.

In essence, Liverpool’s midfield issues are down to a lack of dynamism, creativity and incision. And it is also too reliant on endeavour rather than technical ability. This brings to mind a quote by Real Betis coach, Quique Setien:

“In these days when people say you have to run, work, fight, compete, I ask my players to think”

Other writers on Liverpool largely agree with Reddy’s views. But despite their diagnosis, they all suggest Henderson was amiss in Belgrade and most would have him starting against Fulham. This mirrors the view of most Henderson admirers. This is essentially is a case of offering a square peg as a fit for a round hole. Even for Henderson’s biggest admirers, dynamism, incision and creativity are not attributes they associate with him.

Fabinho’s impressive display against Red Star was scoffed on the grounds of inferior opposition. However, in those ninety minutes, the quality of attacking and defensive input by the Brazilian should be replicated in a lot of matches if Liverpool is to succeed this season.

Does Henderson have such a performance in him? For years, his position – as captain and a starter – has been justified by his passion, good work ethic, the key to Klopp’s pressing system and importance to the dressing room. His importance to Klopp’s pressing system, in particular, is held up as a key justification for having him in the team. But if any lesson was learnt from Belgrade, Napoli and Huddersfield it was how toothless the team looks when the pressing is not working.

Pep Guardiola’s comment after the draw at Anfield was celebrated as the Spaniard showing respect for Klopp’s team.

“If it’s an open game against Liverpool, you don’t have a chance, not even one per cent. They are built for that ”

On the flip side, the comment mocks Liverpool’s inability to deploy other tools when the opposition’s set-up frustrates effective pressing. Pep choosing to go cautiously was all that was needed to suffocate Liverpool’s game. Red Star clogged the midfield denying Liverpool any space to carry out effective pressing. Napoli had technically gifted players to dribble and pass through the press. This had Liverpool’s players chasing shadows. Liverpool’s ineffectiveness in midfield when they are denied opportunities to effectively press is not lost on the opposition. As Carlos Carvahal, former Swansea manager colourfully illustrated, “Liverpool’s Formula One car can’t run fast in London traffic”

The Liverpool captain’s skill set means he would not have offered any improvement on the performance in Belgrade. Neither can he solve the lack of creativity or incision in midfield. In Fabinho, Keita and Shaqiri, Klopp has the players with the skill sets to offer him all that his midfield lacks. Of course, he can choose to play Henderson. But as Belgrade showed, a midfield without balance and creativity will be found out sooner or later.

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  1. ANOTHER RUBBISH ANTI HENDO POST FFS, Fabinho good, Keita good, Wijnaldum good BUT NOT TOGETHER,
    the midfield needs someone to `pull` it together and those three DONT,AND imo Gini goes missing to easily, so put Hendo WITH Fab and Keita and see how that goes, but since Klopp changed formation,Firmino cant get on board, and Mane and Salah underperform,we need to change back to `normal` and rotate Bobby,Mane and Mo with Shaqiri, and take it from there, open to other suggestions too should anyone like to share !!

  2. Since day one I’m no fan of Hendo, he’s the weakest link in the team, and LFC will never win anything with him in the team. Apart fm the energy in him, he does not provide any other positives, especially so with regards to a football brain, he simply does not have one.

  3. @ Ken Wilkins

    You think it’s an anti-Henderson article, I see it as an article on how our midfield can be more creative and dynamic. The beauty of opinions

  4. I’m a fan of Hendo – I think he’s much derided and feel his long range passing is good and he’s everywhere – but we cannot expect him to be the cute passer in midfield if he’s also the guy with the legs, the defensive cover and the longer range passer from deep – there’s 3 in midfield so why only pick on Hendo for the absence of the clever through balls and incisive passing for the forwards

    I dont see this as anti Henderson, I think it’s an excellent article

    We need more creativity from all of them, not just Hendo.

    However I would feel that VVD has also muddied the waters a little – I think Klopp wants to see the longer passing from deep more coming from our defence and the midfield to be much higher up – as Fabinho has the mindset of a DM (dropping into defence often), and Hendo also comes deep to pass the ball as his longer passing is better than his short game we do not have the confidence of good midfielders in ball retention in midfield so we are either looking to run or spray the ball long. As the forwards are up against the defenders there is no chance of breaking the lines if the 2 remaining midfielders need to be present as obvious options to pass to – the lack of quality in short passing and the midfield spreading out, as some seek the sanctuary of staying deep and options such as Shaquiri thinking like forwards, means that despite the team overall remaining compact there are still lack of options in the middle If we had a proper n10 then I think we would have the balance between DM, a runner and a passer, right now they are all runners

    Good article

  5. Gedly, thank for reading. You make some very good points. It wasn’t to pick on Henderson though. I was only challenging the view that was forming in the wake of Belgrade that he was a solution to the problem like the one encountered in Belgrade.


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