Integral to one of the few Liverpool sides to actually put up a fight for the Premier League title in recent years, Jordan Henderson has proven to be one of the big success stories of the Anfield side’s season and of the Brendan Rodgers era as a whole.
The England international has been transformed from a waste of money, lumped in with the likes of Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll as epitomising the reckless transfer policy of the Kenny Dalglish era, to an ever-present midfielder who is looking well worth the reported £16 million fee paid to Sunderland for his services in 2011.
Such a rapid evolution begs the question of just when the 23-year-old suddenly turned on the form that he has shown this season, particularly in light of the fact that Rodgers used him sporadically and out of position for the bulk of the first half of last season.
On the face of it, from the outside looking in, Henderson has gone from big-money flop to key player almost overnight. In the same number of games that he has played this season, Henderson made fewer tackles, fewer passes and created fewer chances than he has this season by a considerable margin.
However, the reality is slightly less clear cut. While Henderson did indeed make fewer chances, tackles, blocks and pretty much any other measure last season, this was largely due to the scarcity of his appearances.
Rodgers preferred his own man—Joe Allen—to Henderson in midfield and that meant that while he may have made 30 appearances, just seven saw him last the full 90 minutes.
When he did play, Henderson did well last season and surprisingly created more chances, made more interceptions and made, albeit marginally, more passes per 90 minutes played last season than this.
His form at the tail end of last season was a far cry from a troubled first season at Anfield, which presumably sparked Rodgers' purchase of Allen and the agreement of a deal to take Henderson to Fulham.
In the 2011/12 season, Henderson, often shunted out to the right of midfield, created a chance every 86 minutes played—a figure that was dwarfed by his one every 46 and 50 minutes created last season and this season respectively.
Fewer tackles were made by Henderson in 2011/12—averaging one per 62 minutes compared to one per 50 minutes this season—while games often passed him by, demonstrable in the fact that he made 42 passes per 90 minutes that season compared to 50 per 90 minutes this season.
Two major turning points can be pointed to in Henderson’s Liverpool career, which prompted the run in the side that has seen the 23-year-old start the side’s last 38 league games.
The first of those was the 3-1 defeat to Stoke City on Boxing Day 2012. Henderson came on as a substitute in that game, as he had in most of his appearances up to that point under Rodgers, but the subsequent reshuffle to Rodgers’ side saw Henderson start six of the next seven games—the longest run of starts that he had had under his new boss at the time, who didn’t let him complete 90 minutes last season until January 19.
His Squawka Performance Score chart shows his score increasing with this run of games before rocketing at the end of last season.
In the 2012 part of last season, Henderson featured for just 438 minutes, averaging just 37 minutes on the pitch per appearance.
However, his form began to pick up as 2013 began, with the aforementioned run of games in January giving him a run in the side that saw him score in back-to-back games last January, against Arsenal and Norwich City.
This run of games also saw a number of games in his favoured central-midfield position, in which he excelled.
This run in the side in his preferred role meant that he was well-placed to take advantage of the second turning point of his Liverpool career—an injury to Joe Allen. The former Swansea man had been nursing a shoulder injury that forced him under the knife in March 2013, with the aim of getting him fit for pre-season training.
Surgery did just that for Allen, but his injury lay-off gave Henderson the chance to cement his place in the side. Over the last eight games of last season, Henderson excelled and earned the fourth-highest Squawka Performance Score of any Liverpool player in the period.
He didn’t look back from a man-of-the-match performance against Aston Villa in March, in a game that marked the last time that Henderson was recalled to the team (having been ever-present since).
Liverpool’s rocky form and Allen’s injury gave Henderson a chance in the side at the beginning of an unforgettable calendar year in which the 23-year-old firmly announced his arrival at the club.
While his form looks to have started this season, it actually came at the end of a season in which Liverpool’s mediocrity allowed both Rodgers and Henderson to lay the groundwork that has seen the player hit the ground running this campaign.
Henderson has carried his success into this season, producing consistently rather than as a substitute or occasional starter, leaving him as a certainty for England’s World Cup squad and a key part of Liverpool’s title run-in.