Liverpool: Will Hendo Be The Last Of The Great Box-To-Box Midfielders?
The Premier League is blessed with some of the world’s best midfielders, creative maestros made in the image of Xavi and Iniesta, who blend technical perfection with the intelligence and pre-emptive vision of a chess-champion. The likes of Cesc Fabregas and David Silva make it look easy; a nonchalant flick here, a drop of the shoulder there - moving the ball in a state of complete calm with arms limp and barely a bead of sweat visible. Over at Anfield, there’s an emerging leader who doesn't quite fit into the elegant midfielder mould: an English 24-year-old who tears around the pitch with teeth grit, veins bulging and legs pumping until the final whistle, making it look anything but effortless.
Jordan Henderson’s stock is rising at Liverpool and for good reason. Effort has never been in short supply with the former Sunderland man, but during a period where the Reds have struggled to revive the spark and fizz of last season, the England international has shown a confidence and authority that makes him a vital cog in the so-far rather rusty Liverpool machine. And his boss has noticed. At the start of the season the Northern Irishman appointed the 24-year-old as his vice captain, calling him (in typically David Brent-esque fashion) ‘the moral compass of the group.’ There’s reason to this Rodgers’ soundbite, as Henderson’s approach to the game sets a frighteningly high standard of intensity and aggression for his team-mates to match.
In a set-up where the emphasis on pressing high and winning the ball back quickly is so fundamental, Henderson is arguably Rodgers’ most effective player. At one stage in his Liverpool career he was in danger of following Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam out of the door as a failed Liverpool recruit, another signpost for the pre-Rodgers days when the club was up to its neck in the sludge of footballing mediocrity. But Rodgers saw enough to let him stay and fight for his place, a retrospectively bizarre situation given his influence over the past two campaigns. Now he embodies the versatility and dynamism on which the Liverpool manager’s blueprint for the club has been built, where opponents are harassed and harried before numbers are committed in a swift and explosive transition from defence to attack. While his stamina is a key asset, this season we have seen more adventure from the midfielder. He appears more expansive with his passing and, as we saw against West Brom, more of a threat in front of goal.
In an age where the spotlight is so often on the number-ten virtuosos or the rock in front of the back four, it is rare to see a genuine box-to-box midfielder, a player as effective going forward as he is tracking back. Erratic at times he may be and, in line with his determination to use all the fuel in his engine, guilty of trying too hard on occasion, he isn't the man to fill the boots of the slowing Steven Gerrard just yet, but his growing stature in this evolving Liverpool side points only to a bright future. ‘Moral compass’ or not, Henderson is a Rodgers favourite who, at only 24, has the time and the potential to fill the talismanic-shaped hole that will inevitably be left when Gerrard hangs up his boots.