Saturday 24 August 2019

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson: ‘I spoke my mind to Jurgen Klopp over midfield role’

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Simon Hughes

There will be a return over the days to come to the theme of Chelsea at Anfield around this time five years ago. There will be the re-living of that moment where Steven Gerrard loses his footing near the half way line and, like a car crash in slow motion, Demba Ba runs away from him, silencing the Kop. There will be the reminder of the parked bus and the decisions of Jose Mourinho, who did not look like a genius in his team’s next game when they Chelsea not score against Norwich City at Stamford Bridge even though the Premier League title was still in reach.

An intriguing arc will become apparent for all to see, but even more so, perhaps, for two current Liverpool players who remember that sticky afternoon particularly well; one who was involved and the other, not so. While Mohamed Salah could have featured for Liverpool, he started for Chelsea – the club he wanted to join first just a few months before. Substituted on the hour mark, his replacement Willian sealed Liverpool’s fate in injury time. Six months later, indeed, Salah was out of the door.

Jordan Henderson had been in the stands that day, ruled out following a straight red card at the end of what had felt for Liverpool’s supporters, a title clinching victory over Manchester City two weekends earlier. As the chances of that happening reduced by Chelsea’s result on Merseyside, the focus fell on Gerrard, it fell on Ba and it fell on Mourinho but Henderson’s absence was largely ignored – a midfielder who had given Liverpool thrust for most of the season.

Without him – and without Daniel Sturridge (only fit enough for the bench) Liverpool lacked energy, movement and balance and even though Chelsea defended well, they did not face a barrage.

Liverpool’s thin squad became stretched at precisely the wrong time. There is a comparison to be made with the challenge ahead of them now – which could span four or seven weeks depending on what sort of progress is made in the Champions League.

After Tuesday night’s win over Porto, Jurgen Klopp apologised for playing Henderson in the wrong position since his appointment as Liverpool’s manager. Aside from a one-game stint at right back, he has nearly always been the No 6 in Klopp’s team though he was outstanding as a No 8 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in December, he was outstanding in that role again at Southampton last Friday and he was probably Liverpool’s man of the match against the Portuguese champions.

He approaches Sunday’s fixture as the Liverpool captain not absolutely guaranteed his place in the side because of Klopp’s options. Yet he has more of a chance influencing an outcome against Chelsea than he did five seasons ago, knowing again it could define the direction of a whole campaign and potentially how his entire career is remembered. If results elsewhere also go Liverpool’s way, a month from now Henderson could be the first Liverpool captain in 29 years to win the league.

It says much about Henderson’s approach to leadership, his relationship with Klopp as well as the manager’s willingness to listen to alternative sources as he tries to find solutions that he felt able to discuss the possibility of him taking on different responsibilities that were nevertheless familiar to him.

“I felt good in the England games [last month] playing in that position,” Henderson explained. “I felt more natural. It was something that he [Klopp] said he would think about.

“I can do both positions and he sees that I can do both. It’s basically about what he wants and he needs from the team. I felt more comfortable and natural in that position for England, creating chances further up and doing what I enjoy doing. At the same time when I played No 6, I felt I’ve learned that position really well and if I need to play there I can do a job there too.”

Henderson started his Liverpool career on the right wing. He had always viewed himself as more of an advanced midfielder before Klopp moved him deeper. His influence is the sort that appreciated by teammates but not all supporters. Henderson recognises Klopp now has Fabinho as an option there.

“For me as a captain and as a player at this football club, I always put the team first,” Henderson said. “I do whatever the manager tells us to do really. But when we had the conversation I felt that I could speak my mind. I felt I could play further forward in that role.

“In the last couple of years there hasn’t really been a player like Fabinho in that role so I’ve had to adapt to that role. I think I’ve done quite well. I think if you look at Fab, it’s quite natural to him, that’s his position and he’s so good at what you need to do in that position.

“I just thought that might give me a bit more license to get forward more at times but you never know. The manager wants me in both positions which is good for me and for the team.”

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