The 2015-2016 season was supposed to be when Jordan Henderson fully came into his own as the leader of Liverpool football club. Steven Gerrard’s departure from Merseyside and Henderson’s subsequent naming as captain of the club after his tremendous 2014-2015 season set the stage for what should have been another step in his ascension on Merseyside. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a season to forget for the midfielder, as he was ravaged by injuries to his foot and knee that limited him to only 23 matches in all competitions. Despite Henderson’s diminished performances resulting from having to play through plantar fasciitis, the Englishman’s place at the club appears to be secure heading into Jürgen Klopp’s first summer in charge. Henderson’s energetic pressing and leadership on the pitch have proven to be vital for the club. These qualities should ensure he is able to enter the preseason on stable footing, even if he is going to have to fight to retain his spot in the starting eleven.
After a stellar 2014-15 season, Henderson’s output dropped precipitously this season. The Englishman only recorded two goals and three assists over 23 appearances compared to seven goals and nine assists in 41 matches in 2014-15. Many of his peripheral statistics including passing accuracy, key passes per match, and chances created per match have all declined. However, many of his defensive numbers were similar or better to his strong season the year before. This domestic campaign, Henderson averaged 2.4 tackles, 1.3 interceptions, and only 0.6 fouls per match. Last year, despite playing 19 more premier league fixtures, Henderson only recorded 2.3 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, and 0.9 fouls conceded per match. This suggests that despite his physical limitations that plagued him throughout the year, Henderson was still effective breaking up play in the midfield. Mainly deployed under Klopp in the double pivot as a part of the German’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, Henderson’s ability to contribute defensively is extremely important. His presumed partner in the pivot for next season, Emre Can, is known to make bursting runs into the attacking third, making it all the more important that Henderson is tactically aware of this and is able to stay back and protect in case of a counter attack. Henderson and Can happen to be relatively similar players, so Henderson’s defensive expectations are likely the same as they will be for his midfield partner. With that said, the Englishman has the ability to be a true box to box player, and even though his injuries diminished many aspects of his game, Henderson was able to show that he will always be a reliable and tactically aware player in midfield. Additionally, his defensive output is likely to only improve now that he has overcome the injuries that caused him so many issues this year. When Henderson is at his best, he is able to control the pace of the game through strong tackling in midfield and by making excellent runs that split open opposing defenses.
The attacking side of Henderson’s game is the area that was truly missing this season. His overall passing accuracy declined to an underwhelming 79.1% in the EPL this year compared to 82.4% a season ago. He was also much less of a creative outlet as he generated only 1.1 chances per match whereas he created 1.8 chances per match the previous year. Henderson’s inability to contribute in the attacking third is likely a direct result of the foot injury that plagued him for over half the year. The Englishman was clearly a step behind the rest of his teammates for a majority of the season, and his ability to come bursting into the final third with his patented lung-busting runs was nowhere to be found. When analyzing his performances this season, it is clear that his injuries prevented him from having the mobility to act as a true box to box midfielder. Instead, he often chose to play much deeper so as to not have to make the long recovery runs that are required of the box to box role. It is unfortunate that the injuries hampered his attacking creativity so dramatically this season as he had really begun to come into his own as an attacking threat from the midfield. Now that he has regained full fitness, it will be exciting to see Henderson reemerge as the superb all around midfielder that has been so effective over the past two seasons.
In the middle of the year, rumors were beginning to surface that Klopp was interested in offloading Henderson over questions regarding his desire to have to earn his place in the team. Klopp also made an interesting comment that some believed was referencing his captain, but now that time has gone by, it appears that Henderson is very much a part of the German’s plans for the next season. With Henderson’s tremendous fitness levels and well-rounded skillset, Klopp should be able to rely on the Englishman as a key member of the starting eleven. There will be fierce competition for spots in the center of the park, but Henderson has previously had to fight to earn a role at the club after nearly being sold at the beginning of Brendan Rodgers’ tenure. The Englishman is well aware of what it will take to be successful in Klopp’s demanding system, and the preseason will be an opportune time for him to show his tremendous character and work ethic that helped him become the captain of the club only a few years after being on the brink of a departure. Henderson is well equipped to handle the challenges that will be thrown his away as he has throughout his time at the club. As a result, there should be little doubt that he will be able to return to being one of the first names on the team sheet every week for the Reds.