The mere mention of Jordan Henderson is enough to spark debate. Love him or loathe him, rate him or hate him, when it comes to the Liverpool captain not many agree. What’s alarming though is just how much of a polarising figure he is.
He’s an influential cog in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield who has grown into the captain’s role in the eyes of many, but there are fans out there who don’t even think he should be starting for the club. There’s very little balance when it comes to the Liverpool number 14 and it’s just extreme views galore with very little context.
The pro-Henderson brigade use passing stats as a way to justify their stance on the former Sunderland man. He tops the passes attempted charts in the Premier League with 85.7 passes per 90 minutes – 11.3 more passes than £89million man Paul Pogba. The anti-Henderson movement uses videos of all the errors the midfielder makes instead of stats to back up their opinion.
Both are flawed. Both are manipulated and both are done to the extreme simply so someone can say ‘look, I was right’.
Passing stats show Henderson can keep play ticking over. But shouldn’t the number six in a heavily possession based team see a lot of the ball in general? Is the fact he’s posting such high numbers a surprise when the majority of teams Liverpool come up against sacrifice possession entirely and just stick men behind the ball? Shouldn't what he's doing with the ball be more important?
Playing the ball forward and breaking the lines are two different things. It appears Henderson does the former but many mistake it as the latter.
Likewise, a video made up of snippets of mistakes is hardly the best way to highlight a point. It would be easy enough to edit a video of Lionel Messi to make him look like a Sunday League player.
The above video is one of the better ones showing Henderson's limitations in the number six role but there is still clear bias in his choice of clips. There always will be because no matter how fair people try to be their opinion will always have an impact on what they are talking about.
The majority of points raised in the video though are valid concerns many supporters have. He can be safe on the ball when risk is required in deeper areas to break teams down. He can be easily rattled when pressed by the opposition. But this is his first full campaign in the number six role. There are bound to be teething problems as he adjusts accordingly.
People tend to forget that playing as the deepest midfielder in a midfield three requires you to contribute defensively as well as offensively. He's averaging more tackles (3.7) and more interceptions (1.7) per 90 minutes than he has done in his entire career. So in that sense he's contributing.
The 26 year old is doing his best in a new role. It's clear why Klopp opted to use him there instead of Emre Can. He covers the ground a lot quicker than his German counterpart and he's often having to fill in at centre-back or at full-back to put a stop to attacks.
He's perhaps ignoring the attacking urges to be a more disciplined midfielder or maybe he's doing it under instruction from his manager. But can Henderson's long-term future with the Reds really be in that role? Or is he just a stop-gap after missing out on Klopp's top transfer targets in the summer?
While he's doing a job there, no matter whether you think it's a good one or a bad one, it is like watching a dog being tied to a lamppost; lots of energy but they aren't really able to stretch their legs. Not to their fullest anyway.
The lacklustre loss to Leicester City in his absence left many claiming it wouldn't have happened had he been playing. But don't pretend Liverpool's poor performances are exclusive to games the captain doesn't appear in.
Jordan Henderson is a box-to-box midfielder
The 2013/14 version of Henderson is, in theory, an ideal midfielder for Klopp to work with. He was like a Duracell bunny with direct movement and a creative eye.
It was all about instinct and he was unshackled with Steven Gerrard playing in the defensive role behind him. He's at his very best when he doesn't have chance to overthink things. He was able to support the attack but he didn't shirk his defensive responsibilities. He was a marauding midfielder with the potential to be quite the influential box-to-box midfielder.
Just out of curiousity: whether you rate him or not, which position/role do you think Jordan Henderson is better in?
— Leroy | LFC Impulse (@LFCImpulse) February 26, 2017
He finished the season with four goals and seven assists (his second most productive season to date), he was making 1.8 key passes which is 0.5 more than he is this season per 90 minutes. However, he's attempting an astonishing 27 more passes every game this season than he did during the 13/14 season though.
Could Klopp have a weapon on his hands if he found a way to deploy Henderson in that role again? Time is still on his side, his legs haven't gone and there's reason to believe he'd compliment the attackers in the Liverpool squad.
You see how just inventive he could be in the pictures below.
Luis Suarez works the ball wide and Henderson makes a run from his central-midfield area to occupy the space the Uruguayan has vacated. He doesn't just prowl on the edge of the penalty area though, instead he makes a run to receive a pass from Jon Flanagan and takes two Cardiff City players with him.
He's then aware enough to be able to execute a back-heel pass into the path of Suarez, who is looking to get into the space created by the midfielder and then he bends the ball home to round off a superb move.
The first picture won't be unfamiliar to fans of the Anfield club. Henderson pinging the ball to the right flank and looking to stretch the opposition. He's done it countless times this season. Not content with that though he makes a run forward and gives the opposition, Aston Villa, another body to deal with in their defensive third.
He then positions himself on the edge of the area and Suarez finds him, as shown in the second picture. He then nonchalantly flicks the ball between his legs into the path of Daniel Sturridge and the striker gets the Reds back into the game. All because of Henderson's progressive play and the ability to execute the unexpected.
How many times this season have Klopp's men needed that inventiveness in and around the penalty area to break down teams and it's been lacking? They are so often accused of being that one pass away from unlocking a team. Perhaps Henderson is the man needed to play that pass.
Henderson is quite the asset to have on the counter attack too. They've not been allowed to play it this season as much as they would probably like but his running off of the ball would create opportunities like the above. He makes up ground, he's direct and he takes the responsibility on instead of looking to set a chance up.
Runners from deep cause havoc for every defence no matter how organised you are as a team. Henderson's eagerness to exploit the space could cause a lot of teams some issues.
For Henderson to be properly appreciated he needs to be let off the leash and played in a role he's a natural in; the box-to-box one.
His limitations in the deeper role will always lead to criticism and it's unfair that he's not able to fully showcase his talents in what's an exciting Liverpool attack he'd be suited to. It seems negligent to have him do a ‘do a job' somewhere as opposed to excelling in a role.