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A Lack of Blood and Thunder

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jordan henderson liverpool united

Against Wolves, Jordan Henderson only misplaced four of his passes from open play for a completion rate topping 90%. He may not have connected on any of his seven attempted crosses, which does rather drag down his overall numbers, but it is nonetheless an impressive statistic. As for how he achieved such a high completion rate, the answer is a fairly simple one: He kept it simple. Some will suggest otherwise, but this is most certainly not a bad thing.

Almost all of his passes traveled less than twenty yards, reflecting the patient, one-touch, pass and move player Henderson is at heart. However, his through ball to Craig Bellamy on twenty minutes that sent Liverpool's on-form striker clear on goal and saw the ball prodded just wide of the post showed that Henderson is more than able to pick out a cutting pass should that option be available—and if it has a high chance of success. This last bit, of course, is almost entirely dependant on the players around him providing quality movement. It also relies on the players around Henderson being willing to pass the ball back to him quickly when he provides an easy—though potentially less flashy—outlet, working the defence as a team until gaps form instead of holding onto the ball and seeking out an immediately telling pass.

jordan henderson pass chalkboard wolves

That he doesn't like to fire off high-risk Hollywood balls, instead seeking to drag and tire the opposition until holes appear and runs are made, should be nothing but encouraging. Parallels to Lucas Leiva's approach to controlling midfield are also unavoidable, as are the corresponding cries by many that Henderson simply doesn't provide enough proper English blood and thunder to be a worthy midfielder at Liverpool Football Club. And perhaps, amongst the mindless braying, there is a faint yet worthwhile point to be found, since as a player many believe will regularly take on an advanced role in midfield it's entirely reasonable to expect Henderson to at times provide primary support for a single striker.

This is a role that requires more risks be taken, as the cost-benefit or risk-reward balance tips towards the benefit side of the scales the closer an attacking team moves towards goal. In those more advanced positions, any player will be expected to attempt more high-risk actions—be they low-percentage passes or looking to beat a man one-on-one—than from deeper in midfield. Luckily, Henderson is still young. If his long-term role is to be that of a largely attacking midfielder instead of, potentially, partnering Lucas from deep when the Brazilian returns from injury, then there is comfort to be found in the idea that teaching an intelligent footballer to take more risks should be infinitely easier than developing a more flashy player's footballing intelligence should that be found lacking.

At the end of the day, Henderson plays smart, pass and move football naturally. It may not be a quintessentially English approach and as such may seem a touch out of place for a 21-year-old Englishman, but it is an approach well suited for the club he now plays for. In a year when desperate fans have attempted to misappropriate what was already a misguided and lazy zero to hero narrative applied to Lucas long after it became clear he had the tools to become a top footballer as a reason why new signing Andy Carroll might come good, the reality is that the only young player at Liverpool for whom those comparisons make any sense is Henderson. And as with Lucas before him, all of the evidence of the top player he's well on his way to becoming is already there, clear to see for anybody willing to look past a very English set of preconceptions of what a midfielder is supposed to be.

He isn't the finished product yet, his development could still go down a number of paths, and he's probably not ever going to be a player whose best moments dominate highlight packages. But he already is at the least a very good player, and moreover the sort of player who will only look better the more he is surrounded by other intelligent footballers who embrace a pass and move philosophy. Underestimating him because he plays the angles and stays on his feet instead of looking to clatter into opponents, or because he seems to have an inherent belief that if you hold onto the ball for long enough as a team good things will happen, is a mistake that too many are making.