EPL

Back to the future? Versatile Liverpool star Henderson makes case for defence

By Sports Desk January 30, 2021

Jurgen Klopp is full of praise for the "football smart" Jordan Henderson as the Liverpool captain looks set to continue at centre-back – a position he could switch to on a full-time basis later in his career. 

The reigning Premier League champions continue to have issues at the heart of their defence due to injuries, Joel Matip the latest to go down after suffering ankle ligament damage in the 3-1 win at Tottenham on Thursday. 

With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez long-term absentees, there is still the possibility Liverpool could make a move before the January transfer window closes to strengthen that area of their squad. 

Fabinho has filled in admirably having moved back from midfield, but he too is now sidelined. The Brazilian's absence saw Henderson start in defence against Spurs, a game that involved an enforced change of partner at half-time, Nathaniel Phillips coming on to replace the injured Matip. 

The England international again demonstrated his versatility – and perhaps gave a further glimpse into his long-term future – during an assured display at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with Klopp impressed by how serenely his skipper has managed to adapt to the complexities of playing in the role for the Reds. 

"We should not forget that he is actually an eight, which makes it even more special. He's an eight, transformed into a six, transformed into a four," Klopp said ahead of Sunday's trip to West Ham. 

"He can play all these positions. The first thing that says is about how football smart Hendo is. His physical skills are obvious, but just how football smart he is.  

"They are completely different positions, especially the eight. There are some teams who play with a six so deep that it's kind of a three at the back, but he never played like this. That would have made the transition quite easy. We play with a six in a different way – that's how it is." 

Despite playing in defence, Henderson still made 29 passes in the opposing team's half in the triumph over Spurs; it was his chipped ball over the top that found Sadio Mane and led to Liverpool's opener on the stroke of half-time, scored by Roberto Firmino. 

The 30-year-old did not look like a fish out of water when playing there in Premier League fixtures against Southampton and Manchester United either, suggesting that – when the time is right – he could make a permanent switch from versatile midfielder to ball-playing centre-back. 

"I wish him a long career," Klopp said when asked about Henderson's potential to shift deeper as his career progresses. 

"Centre-half is one of the positions he can play, thankfully for us. He had a good game against Tottenham, too.  

"What makes it so exciting is, with his football skills, he can be very influential in our build-up as well. He had a big hand in our first goal, a nice little chip for Sadio, who then made the square pass for Bobby."

Henderson has not been dribbled past by an opponent during his three league outings at centre-back, with Liverpool conceding twice in those fixtures. It is a small sample size, of course, but it is a sign of Klopp's faith in his players that he has not looked to change the style of play or tactical approach to ease the burden on those covering for absent team-mates. 

Against West Ham, Henderson seems set to be utilised in the role again. Either Phillips or Rhys Williams will be in the team alongside him, though Klopp remains hopeful Fabinho is not too far away from a return, potentially in time for a home clash against Manchester City on February 7.

Perhaps by then the Liverpool boss will have a new signing to pop on the defensive carousel. Matip's fragility has seemingly increased the urgency to explore options ahead of Monday's deadline, but panic buys are not part of the long-term plan at Anfield.

If there is no defensive addition, however, Klopp at least knows that he has on-field lieutenant in Henderson that is capable of thriving, no matter where he lines up.

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