Liverpool recorded back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time in almost an entire year as they pulled off an impressive comeback to win 3-2 at West Ham - and this one was without Luis Suarez, which made victory all the more sweet. It is also no coincidence that this upturn in form has coincided with the return of Lucas Leiva, whose anchoring of the midfield has been sorely lacking over the past twelve months. He played a key role in protecting the defence, and, whilst Liverpool scored twice after Lucas was subbed off, he exudes confidence and his presence in the side brings a solidity that cannot be overstated.
An argument could be made that Diamé going off injured was the turning point in the game - and it certainly had a huge impact because he was bossing the midfield for West Ham - but it was a different midfielder who I thought really changed the game, and, despite a fantastic effort from him in an unfamiliar position, it’s not Jonjo Shelvey. The introduction of Jordan Henderson gave Liverpool some real energy and purpose in midfield in the final twenty minutes as they turned the game around. Lucas went off as he’s still working his way back to match fitness, Gerrard was tiring and Allen had put in another big shift, so Henderson came on and had another positive impact on the game.
Henderson has quietly had an impressive campaign. Most of his starts have come in cup competitions, but he has played a key role in Liverpool navigating through the Europa League group stages with a young side. It is no surprise that with him generally getting the chance to impress in his natural position he has prospered, and shown far more than he did last season when he spent most of the season playing on the right of midfield. Out of all the unsuccessful signings from Kenny Dalglish’s regime, Henderson is the one who could still make an impact. Stewart Downing, to be fair, had a solid game at left-back – Johnson looked the more vulnerable of the two full backs defensively – but his time is up at Anfield. Henderson, though, is prospering.
It’s hard not to like Henderson. He’s the quiet lad in school who is nice to everyone but gets unfair stick from the bigger boys. He comes across as a really nice fella, and he has all the tools to become a top player, but you just want him to show a bit more fight sometimes. It is hard for a young lad to come to a big club in an expensive deal and instantly prove his worth; the pressure on Liverpool and the expectation to succeed is, with the greatest of respect to Sunderland, on a completely different level to that up in the North East. He struggled, initially, to really express himself; he would keep things simple far too often, and even now when he gets in to advanced positions he chooses to pass than to shoot. But he’s getting there, gradually.
I used to think that Henderson had formed a niche as a player who can inject energy when it is lacking, but now he is becoming more than that. He scored the goal that ensured Liverpool qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League next spring, and he set up the winner against the Hammers. He’s confident, is enjoying his football, and it is easy to forget that at 22 he is not the finished article. If he can become stronger mentally then he could become a regular for club and country, despite facing plenty of competition at both. He has a fantastic attitude, and managers love the sort of player who is impressionable and willing to learn, which is something that Henderson has done – and he is now reaping the rewards.
Liverpool have enjoyed at least 60% possession in each of the past four games – three of those coming away from home – and, whilst it has become the in thing to make fun of possession statistics, it serves as a clear indication that the side are becoming more comfortable with what Rodgers is asking of them. That the two goals Liverpool did score came from moves that were built from the back will no doubt please the manager and fans alike; slowly but surely the pieces are falling in to place, and if money is made available to strengthen their attacking corps then they are only four points off fourth place. It’ll be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
It has not been an easy season, and there is still plenty of work to do, but this is a young side that are improving with every game, and Henderson is the case in point. Football is full of opinionated folk; it's what makes the game so compelling. Often, though, once you make your mind up about a player it's very difficult to convince you to think anything different about him; if you've written him off, it takes a lot to admit you were wrong if he starts to impress, and vice-versa. Slowly but surely, though, Jordan Henderson is finding himself as a player. He is winning over his detractors, and, more importantly, he is helping his team win games.
We interviewed Jordan Henderson recently for Topman Generation, which you can read here: Jordan Henderson: "Steven Gerrard Is My Hero"