Jordan Henderson has forged his own identity as Liverpool captain after spending years being “judged in the shadow of Steven Gerrard”, according to the BBC Match of the Day team working Sunday’s FA Cup third-round Merseyside derby.
Over the last six months, Henderson, 29, has lifted three trophies for a club that had won one major honour previously within the decade. In recent weeks, he could be found playing at the base of a three-man midfield in a Liverpool team that has established a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League table, a competition they have never won, with a game in hand.
His most recent outing in a 2-0 win over this season’s surprise package, Sheffield United, moved Gary Lineker to suggest that never before has a Premier League player been so underestimated by the public.
Speaking to Squawka in the Match of the Day studio while getting ready to present the BBC’s coverage of Liverpool 1-0 Everton at Anfield, Lineker expanded on this: “I think that’s fair. I was just putting it out there. I don’t think he perhaps gets the credit he deserves as the Liverpool captain of an extraordinary side.
“He plays in nearly all the games, he’s fundamental to the way [Jurgen] Klopp plays. I just think that he’s not really given around the country perhaps the kudos he deserves.
“Maybe it’s a bit to do with the fact he’s English? I don’t know what it is. I think he’s improved and I think Klopp has improved him – and that’s important. He’s been a consistently good performer and Klopp has brought more out of him. He’s a little bit more forthright now in his passing and a bit more confident in himself.”
Since Fabinho was injured in late February, only two top-flight players have played more passes into the final third than Henderson, who has featured in one game fewer due to the postponement of Liverpool‘s match against West Ham.
The Reds have also kept clean sheets in five consecutive league matches (all of which Henderson started in the holding role) for the first time since 2007, when Rafael Benitez was in charge. Also present in the studio on Sunday was Leon Osman, who raised the subject of the man who used to captain Liverpool in those days.
“I think he’s [Henderson] happier being him,” said the former Everton midfielder. “For years he was Steven Gerrard’s understudy and he took the armband off him and he was trying to do things that Steven Gerrard did. And the crowd probably expected that, that’s what captains do because they’d had Steven Gerrard doing it for 20 years.
“Now he’s just being himself, he’s doing Jordan Henderson type things. His captaincy is underrated and the demands he puts on his team on the field, that’s a huge part of him.”
“It’s probably quite hard to be judged in the shadow of Gerrard. That’s a good point,” adds Lineker. “He’s a leader. People still poo-poo him about England, but he’s a top-class player now, terrific.”
Aged 18 years and 340 days, Curtis Jones became Liverpool‘s youngest goalscorer in a Merseyside derby since Robbie Fowler with his match-winner on Sunday.
The Reds will find out their opponents for the next stage on Monday evening when the fourth-round draw takes place at 19:30, which readers can see live on BBC One or on the BBC Sport website ahead of their coverage of Arsenal vs Leeds United.