Why Jordan Henderson is facing a fight for his place at Liverpool
If anyone needed a strong World Cup this summer, it was Jordan Henderson. He may not have shone for England but he did not underperform, either. Solid would be an apt description. Defensively sound, a solid passer, full of energy Henderson was one of the key men in the Three Lions’ excellent run to the World Cup semifinal.
For Gareth Southgate he is a second captain, marshalling his team from the heart of the midfield while Harry Kane leads the line.
It may have been a disappointing summer in the end for England but for Henderson, it can only be classified a success. The problem is while he was busy succeeding Fabinho and Naby Keita arrived at Liverpool Football Club, leaving the 28-year-old with work to do to remain a regular for his club.
In a battle against the Brazilian for the defensive midfield spot Henderson loses out every time. Fabinho epitomises the defensive midfielder Jurgen Klopp wants. Tall, strong, athletic, he is an obvious choice ahead of Henderson to anchor the Reds midfield and protect an oft-fragile defence.
The numbers bear this out. Last season, Fabinho was better than Henderson in every regard when it came to defensive stats. The Liverpool captain only came out on top when counting how many times he was fouled or dribbled past in a match. In key areas such as tackling, blocking and intercepting, he lagged behind Fabinho. It was a similar story when it came to passing and offensive stats, too.
And Keita? The former RB Leipzig man is a better athlete in all aspects, better suited to the box-to-box role Klopp expects his central midfielders to perform. He is also better defensively, offensively and in distribution when compared to Henderson.
Again the stats from last season show this Keita was better than Henderson in all but two regards defensively and offensively.
Henderson managed fewer fouls and posted 0.1 more clearances per game. Other than that, Keita comes out on top. When it came to passing, Henderson played more passes per game, more long balls per game and bettered Keita’s passing accuracy by three per cent. Keita was a comfortable winner in the other categories.
That leaves one central midfield spot for Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana. In that fight, Henderson comes out last once again. Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the first choice when he returns from injury having proved his value in that role last season. Wijnaldum is also a better option in a box-to-box role. Lallana, meanwhile, has been a Klopp favourite since the German’s first day in charge. He too is better suited to the role.
That leaves Henderson looking to take one of the two central midfield positions. There, he faces another fight to make it into the starting XI. Against Naby Keita, he comes out second best.
There’s also the attacking midfielder conundrum to consider. Liverpool are keen on finding a replacement for Philippe Coutinho this summer.
So far, FSG have failed to sign Nabil Fekir but the intent is clear. Whether it is the Frenchman or another candidate, the club wants that creative number ten in their midfield.
Should one arrive, Klopp would change his formation to accommodate his preferred players. If [when] that happens, Henderson is unlikely to be starting ahead of a central midfield pairing of Fabinho and Keita.
In every circumstance, Henderson is unlikely to be a Liverpool regular next season.
There are positives Henderson brings to the side. Klopp is more than aware of them. There is a reason he remains Liverpool captain and gets consistent backing from his manager. The fact both Keita and Fabinho will need time to adjust to the Premier League also works in his favour. So too will his good showing at the World Cup.
But when the holidays roll around and Klopp must decide on his best squad for the run-in, Henderson will only have a supporting role. The midfielder faces a frustrating future at Anfield.