???️ Does Jordan Henderson belong in Liverpool’s strongest starting XI?

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The inclusion and involvement of Jordan Henderson in Liverpool’s team has been hotly debated by fans pretty much ever since he was appointed captain of the club. That decision was made by Brendan Rodgers in 2015 following the departure of Steven Gerrard, who had served as captain of Liverpool for 12 years. A captaincy like Gerrard’s is almost an impossible act to follow and the pressure really has been on Hendo to perform. The issue he has is that a lot of fans expect him to be the same player as Gerrard was, when he simply isn’t. He’s a completely different type of midfielder. He’s a tidy, energetic centre-mid who brings an element of calm and control to the midfield. He links up the play well and is vocal in the middle of the field to his players around him. Gerrard, while capable of all these things, obviously brought a whole new dimension to the team. His goals and ability to produce individual moments of brilliance helped write himself into Liverpool folklore, and the momentous task of following him is a brave step for our current captain, Jordan. I’ve always been a fan of Jordan Henderson in our midfield. There, I said it. It’s an unpopular opinion with many fans but like I said before I like the element of control he brings into the team. People like to fixate on his misplaced passes and mistakes, without noticing all the good things he does in games. He wins lots of tackles, sets attacks going, and most importantly, keeps the ball in areas it is critical not to lose it. Despite my keen liking for Henderson, recent performances with and without him have made me wonder whether or not he actually is included in our strongest starting XI. I’m writing this on the back of two very contrasting games, the league game vs Manchester United, and the Champions League match away at Maribor. As a disclaimer- I know that Manchester United are a better team than Maribor. I just wanted to get that out there before the Twitter responses murder me. However, one of these games was a frustrating 0-0 draw, and another was a 7-0 win. Jordan Henderson played for 90 minutes in one, but didn’t play at all in the other. Many fans on Twitter picked up on this and suddenly, amidst a 7-0 win, there was negatively surrounding Jordan Henderson. First of all, what is wrong with these people? We’ve won 7-0, pipe down and enjoy it. But then second of all, I thought the point was worth looking into. While Henderson’s pass completion rate is high at 78.3%, the criticism of that is the amount of those passes that go either backwards or sideways. This is actually a myth. According to Squawka, 90% of his completed passes this season went forward. Now, I don’t really know what more people are expecting from a Liverpool midfielder but to say that 68% of ALL of your passes are both going forward and being completed, I’d say that’s quite an impressive feature of your play. However, it’s still up for the debate about whether these passes are encouraging positive play or not. You would assume a proportion of these passes go just a yard or two forward, in which case they would count towards the 90%, but how many actually make a real difference to the way we play? Are there other midfielders in the squad who would be doing a better job at creating more chances and ultimately getting us more goals? Well, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum both have higher pass completion rates that Henderson this season, but have both played fewer passes forward and created fewer chances. However, it’s these two players who I would say have a better reputation for being more positive in their play amongst most Liverpool fans, and, even more interesting given that Henderson plays the 6 position, which is traditionally a little deeper, while Gini and Emre both play the more advanced midfield roles. There was great praise last night against Maribor for James Milner. I included him in my predicted starting XI for the match because I was confident he’d have a role to play and do a good job. In the end he was possibly man of the match and had one of the best games he’s had in a red (or orange) shirt. Of course, out come the Henderson haters. “This was a proper captain’s performance!” they cry, “Milner’s proved to Klopp why he should be starting ahead of Henderson every game. A more positive style of play.” The issue these people have is forgetting where Milner was playing. Milner is not a direct swap for Henderson, he was technically replacing Emre Can in the 8 role, while Can occupied the usual role Henderson would occupy, which means that Milner’s job in the game was to be a positive player . The noticeable difference is compared to Gini and Can, not Henderson. In order to decide whether Henderson is too negative or neutral, you need to compare Emre Can’s performance in the 6 to what Henderson does, and decide whether Can was any more positive. In my opinion? I’m not so sure. So there you have it, the numbers that prove that Jordan Henderson is actually the most positive of our usual midfield 3, and numbers that prove that he certainly is part of Liverpool’s strongest starting XI. I’m not saying Milner isn’t also in that team, all I’m saying is that Henderson definitely is. He hasn’t been great in previous seasons but I think he’s doing the business at the moment for us and the stats agree. Of course, Naby Keita could arrive and completely blow him out of the water, but we shall see.   By Ben Kelly
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