24-year-old Jordan Henderson has grown into a phenomenal player at Liverpool under boss Brendan Rodgers. Mert Conker analyses his role at the club and just why he is such an important component in the system.
When Jordan Henderson completed his transfer to Liverpool from Sunderland for a fee around £16M, probably we all discussed the fee at length. The first thing that was widely stated was that he wasn’t ready for top level. And the criticism seemed accurate in the early part of his Liverpool career. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers changed things for the Englishman, his improvement accelerated and now, we are watching a complete and mature midfielder.
Jordan became a vital part of the Liverpool team that nearly ended the title drought; Rodgers’s avid attitude, helped him to adapt to his methods faster than what many assumed. Henderson was never seen as someone who could fit into Rodgers’ style, by the manager himself, as he was close to being sold by the club, until he decided to fight for his place. Since the beginning of the 2012–13 season, he has been one of the most important component of Rodgers’s structure. Now into his 4th season at the club, Jordan has developed into the most crucial cog in the system, with his place in the starting line-up all but assured.
On this piece I’ll try to explain his contribution to Liverpool system by using some illustrations. Lets start!
An important part of Rodgers’ philosophy involves quickly regaining possession and preventing the opposition from having space & time on the ball. His insistence on pressing is thus vital for his system, and Jordan Henderson exemplifies this.
Firstly, take a look at the time on the first two illustrations. He forced the opponent to make a mistake then made a forward run behind the left back. On the first illustration, thanks to Henderson’s intensity, Bentaleb didn’t have a chance to pass the ball and has been flummoxed by Jordan’s press, being forced into a mistake. Then Henderson determines the free space behind the left back and makes the run. It wasn’t a major cause of concern for Tottenham in that particular instance, but imagine a player who never gives up on pressing. He always force opponents to make mistake and his timing on press & forward run was flawless.
On the third illustration, positioning is the key. Jordan’s sudden and aggressively press put Bentaleb on the spot and he didn’t have a chance to protect the ball, also he didn’t have a chance to turn his face to opponents half. It was one of the best sudden press I’ve seen. Jordan’s positioning and aggressiveness are two main characteristic on his success about pressing, as far as I’ve observed of course.
- There is space between the striker and central midfielder. The main idea is to cover this space and to ensure the opponent does not have a chance to move easily in this area of the field. Henderson in the middle, Suarez on the left while Sturridge pushing forward from the middle just in front of Henderson with Gerrard and Coutinho from behind while Sterling constantly looks to take the plunge from the right. It is like making a sandwich. Tottenham didn’t even have a chance to move the ball forward. It leaves the opposition with nothing but long balls to the forward line and unless your striker is ideal for such situations, there’s not much you’re going to have in terms of attack
- Imagine that you’re the opponent and you have to deal with this press and pressure approximately 45 minutes in every single game. They do not have a chance to settle on the field and move the ball but if there is a players who is fast and runs with the ball efficiently in your team then you can create a danger with counter attacks. Specially, with decent timing and the intent to constantly play it wide to open up the defence. Liverpool can be exposed against fast and agile players as they prefer to play a high line.
- What is Jordan’s contribution on this system? Jordan is the main man in the middle of the area. He starts all press activity and determines the time. Players looking to him to put pressure and start to inhibit the opponent. Jordan’s duty doesn’t finish when they get the ball back. He moves the ball from one wing to other and made forward runs. From time to time, Coutinho and Sterling play in this role and they’ve been successful, as well.
Liverpool (if they don’t play a diamond) prefers to creates triangles in midfield and let me explain it by using illustrations. Henderson is the key in these kind of situations. Look at Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling below. What are they doing? They are looking at Henderson to start to put pressure on opponent, timing must be perfect and Henderson determines the timing.
Henderson thus is the ‘midway’ point between defence and attack but isn’t quite a box-to-box man. He combined the more deeper Steven Gerrard (when he isn’t playing direct longer passes) with the more attack minded Philippe Coutinho (for example). This is the crucial role in a transition phase which Jordan Henderson performs.
Having analysed Henderson’s defensive contribution, now its time to talk about some attacking movements. His main attacking contribution convene in forward runs. We’ve seen some effective forward runs against Man City & Milan in pre-season friendlies the past few weeks. His countless forward runs are always a threat for opponents. Why? He always tries, always looking for empty spaces between the defenders and midfielders and to run into. Determination is the key. Manages to open more free spaces for strikers, as well. Take a look at the first illustration. His running direction is so good, Suarez is able to have more spaces to play with the ball. Defenders must follow Jordan Henderson to keep him away from goal but it provides other attackers more time & space to score.
Always impose the opponent with forward runs, that’s been Henderson’s ‘philosophy’ if you may. Normally he can’t get positive results from most of those runs but imagine a midfielder constantly making those moves, often unmarked. That is something really hard to deal with. As soon as he determines the free space, he goes for it. It should be noted that Liverpool feature players who are really good at through balls like Lallana, Coutinho and Gerrard. His forward runs will be a big threat again if he can combine with those passes.
Probably most of you remember this position. beginning of the first goal of Liverpool at Tottenham (yes Henderson has been excellent against them) away last season. Suarez scored it but Henderson’s determination made it happen. He started with flawless forward runs then didn’t give up on position and put pressure on Dawson who was forced into a mistake, with Henderson eventually scoring after Suarez’ involvement.
The best illustrations which explains Jordan’s improvement & contribution on forward runs. Sterling played an amazing long ball to Coutinho who made a clever move to the touch line to open space for Jordan’s run. A first touch played a great through ball to Jordan as Suarez supported Hendo with a decent run.
Finishing and composure are two main characteristics that should improve as soon as possible. He is impatient in front of the goal and his finishing is below average. If he can improve in these two departments, he’ll have more of a chance to score after a decent forward run. He needs to be able to combine these component of his game to really be a regular attacking threat and Rodgers is probably working on this.
Jordan adds mentality, solidity and stamina to Liverpool midfield, his presence gives Gerrard and others less physical trouble. He can play in different roles which is very important for Rodgers, with versatility key to his system. After his first initially impression on the field, he changed the perception of the people about him by showing enormous improvement, specially after Rodgers introduction to the club. Expect Henderson to only grow further as Liverpool enter a crucial Champions League season, with more Champions League football for the subsequent seasons the main objective.
Written by Mert Conker. Follow him on Twitter @Mertconker
Read all our posts in our Liverpool blog, Shankly’s Men. What do you think of Jordan Henderson? Can he continue his current form? Let us know with a comment below.