Jordan Henderson: Why Liverpool Midfielder Is Underrated
Liverpool's upturn in domestic form since late 2012 has coincided with a return to the first team on a regular basis for midfielder Jordan Henderson, but the midfielder has still yet to win over a significant portion of fans.
Not that the Reds' revival is all down to him, of course, in much the same way that defeats or unexpected draws are not alone down to his presence in the team over someone else.
Even so, Henderson has shown enough over the past three months to suggest he still has more to offer Liverpool, and that he can continue to make himself an integral part of the first team squad going forward.
So why does the former Sunderland man remain underappreciated by some supporters, as well as those in the media?
Does his own manager still fall in the same category as well?
Here are some of the reasons examined why Henderson should be valued a little higher by some than he seems to be, and why there continues to be an air of disappointment surrounding him when some discuss his Liverpool career.
Big Price Tag and Poor Debut Season
Having joined Liverpool early in the summer of 2011, Jordan Henderson was expected to be something of an immediate hit for the Reds having cost £16 million from Sunderland, who he had excelled for in the campaign previous.
Unfortunately, Henderson entered a team in huge transition and with not quite the right balance in the squad, meaning he played much of the season on the right side of midfield, a position which didn't suit him and his qualities.
Neither he nor the rest of the team found much form or consistency over the course of his debut campaign on Merseyside, leading several fans to deride Henderson, along with other fellow new arrivals, as part of the reason that the Reds did not perform as well as expected.
His disappointing performances from the first season lead to some having judged him as a long-term failure, regardless of real-term improvements.
His Selflessness and Versatility
Despite joining as a central midfielder, as noted, Henderson spent most of the first season playing out at right wing.
Patently not his preferred role, he nonetheless has excelled this season in a variety of positions.
During the Premier League and Europa League campaigns so far, Henderson has played box to box in central midfield, as the deep controlling midfielder, full-back on the right side of the Liverpool defence and as the attacking midfielder supporting the central striker.
Most recently he has played as a left-sided attacker with licence to roam infield, especially when Liverpool are without the ball.
Henderson has worked hard to earn himself a place in the team, and his willingness to put the team's needs before his own preferences—and not lose his level of quality—means he is likely to remain an important member of the side for now.
That selflessness marks him out as a player to be admired just as much as his hard work to regain a place after being heavily out of favour.
Work-Rate, Strength, Power and Stamina: Missing Attributes in Midfield
Leaving aside Henderson's mental fortitude, the player has plenty of other attributes which make him a valued member of the squad.
The Reds are building a squad which is filled with technically gifted players, good on the ball and comfortable in possession, but it lacks certain abilities at present.
In particular, the centre of the park is often shown up to be too lightweight, struggling to maintain tempo on the ball with the pressing game that manager Brendan Rodgers wants to implement.
Henderson aids the side significantly in all aspects of the game where physicality and strength are deemed important, with his ability to work hard for 90 minutes and maintain positional discipline just as important as his prowess at passing the ball.
Improved Contribution in the Final Third
As an all-round central midfielder Henderson has plenty of qualities on show, but it is in a more advanced role that he has been deployed recently.
Whether through the centre or from one of the flanks, Henderson, as one of the forwards, is required to have a positive impact on the game in terms of creating chances and scoring goals.
In this regard, Henderson has improved immeasurably this term.
In fact, the Reds' No. 14 has significantly improved in every single key attacking statistic compared to last season (all statistics via EPLindex.com).
Pass completion rate, attacking zone completion rate, cross accuracy, minutes per chance created, minutes per clear-cut chance created, minutes per goal scored, minutes per shot on target and chance conversion rate—every single metric has seen an improvement in Jordan Henderson's play.
That alone should indicate that supporters at the very least should appreciate the upgrade in Henderson as a player since last term.
In and out the Team and Linked with a Transfer Away
One further reason why Jordan Henderson is not as appreciated as perhaps he might otherwise be is his relative inability to consistently hold down a place in Brendan Rodgers' first choice team.
After starting the season on the fringes of things, Henderson has taken time to work his way into the team, and still found himself in and out of the starting XI up until a few weeks ago.
Henderson was linked with a move away during the summer in a swap deal with Clint Dempsey (via Telegraph) but remained at Liverpool after convincing himself he could still have a part to play in the team's success.
Until Henderson continues to nail down a place in the team despite increased competition for places, or perhaps when he signs a new contract with the Reds, he is likely to always be viewed by some as a squad player on the verge of losing his place, perpetually to be blamed for a team's defeat or next in line to be shipped out by Rodgers when the transfer window opens.