Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United on Thursday night in what was, in many ways, the quintessential Liverpool performance.
Mohamed Salah scored, Sadio Mane scored, one of the full-backs registered an assist and Virgil van Dijk marshalled the backline with ease.
Another integral factor behind Liverpool’s comfortable win at Anfield, though, was Jordan Henderson who combined aggressiveness off the ball with assuredness on it.
Jordan Henderson's game by numbers vs. Sheffield Utd:
131 total passes
92% pass accuracy
82 passes in the opp. half
35 passes ending in the final third
14 passes into the final third
12 ball recoveries
4 chances created
Leading by example (again). © pic.twitter.com/xelTKSMQng
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 2, 2020
Other than James Milner (four), Henderson completed the highest number tackles in Liverpool’s team with three, while only Van Dijk (134) completed more passes than the Liverpool skipper’s 121.
That total incidentally was exactly half the number of Sheffield United’s entire side managed, emphasising how controlled Liverpool’s performance was on the night.
‘Most underrated player in Premier League history’
After the game, Match of the Day and BT Sport presenter Gary Lineker even went as far as to question whether or not Henderson is the Premier League’s least heralded player ever.
Think @JHenderson might just be the most underrated player in Premier League history. Guess I might have just changed that.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 2, 2020
That is some statement, but Henderson has been superb and his recent rise is all the more eye-catching considering he has had to overcome numerous obstacles to become one of the first names on Jürgen Klopp’s teamsheet.
Henderson’s early struggles at Liverpool have been well-documented but even during the Klopp era, he has had to battle against numerous big-money signings and reinvent himself more than once to secure a regular spot.
In total, Klopp has spent approximately £154m on central midfielders since joining Liverpool in 2015, with Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Fabinho all bought during that time.
The arrival of Keita and Fabinho in the same summer led to many predicting that Henderson’s time as a first-team regular at Anfield was over, yet he has remained a constant presence in Klopp’s side.
Liverpool results since Fabinho’s injury:
- Fabinho went off injured in the 19th minute of Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Napoli in the Champions League, November 29. Scorelines below in bold signify games in which Henderson started at CDM.
- Liverpool 2-1 Brighton (Premier League)
- Liverpool 5-2 Everton (Premier League)
- Bournemouth 0-3 Liverpool (Premier League)
- FC Salzburg 0-2 Liverpool (Champions League)
- Liverpool 2-0 Watford (Premier League)
- Aston Villa 5-0 Liverpool (League Cup)
- Monterrey 1-2 Liverpool (Club World Cup)
- Liverpool 1-0 Flamengo (Club World Cup)
- Leicester City 0-4 Liverpool (Premier League)
- Liverpool 1-0 Wolves (Premier League)
- Liverpool 2-0 Sheffield United (Premier League)
- Total games: 11
- Clean sheets: 7
- Goals conceded: 9
It's a close one.
Fabinho – Better in the air and a more active defender.
— smarterscout (@smarterscout) December 29, 2019
At the start of the season, Henderson tended to play in a box-to-box role on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s midfield three alongside Fabinho and Wijnaldum. However, he has been used as a No.6 more recently.
Fabinho, who Gary Neville described as ‘the best defensive midfielder around’ in September, has been sidelined since the end of November with an ankle problem, missing Liverpool’s last seven Premier League games.
The Brazilian has barely been missed, though, as Henderson has stood in admirably. They have kept seven clean sheets in the 11 games since Fabinho’s injury. In every single one of those seven games where Liverpool avoided conceding, Henderson has started in a defensive midfield, either anchoring a 4-3-3 or as a duo at the heart of a 4-2-3-1.
In terms of playing style, data analysis from smarterscout suggests that Henderson is an aggressive defender in his own right. He rates* 89 for recoveries compared to Fabinho’s 72, while his overall defending quantity is also superior with 81 to 62.
*Style ratings measure how often a player attempts an action and are based on a scale of 0-99.
Considering how effective Henderson has been in defensive, transition and attacking phases from the pivot position he has inherited from Fabinho, it will be interesting to see what happens when Liverpool’s No.3 returns.
Klopp delivered an update on Fabinho’s fitness on Friday ahead of Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton in the FA Cup.
“Fabinho [is] out on the pitch doing the running stuff. They are really all in a good way, our only problem is the games are coming so quick, that’s why there’s no real news. Most of them will not be available for [Sunday].”
Fabinho’s return strengthens an already formidable midfield, but he may have to work extremely hard to dislodge Henderson from defensive midfield, such has been his form of late.