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Rodgers Backing Henderson

The central midfield pairing of Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard has furrowed many a brow thus far, but on Saturday, the Brazilian's yellow card accumulation will rule him out and leave Jordan Henderson as his most likely and able deputy.

Only Enrique could match Jordan in the 'sweet-but-gormless' expression competition
Only Enrique could match Jordan in the 'sweet-but-gormless' expression competition
Clive Brunskill

Sometimes opportunities present themselves before us like shimmering sprites. Often, however, such potentialities can feel like the worst kind of slow water-torture, for we must watch them ebb away from us like the morning tide, whilst we remain hamstrung by circumstance and unable to grasp them. On other occasions we wilfully shun chances that materialise, preferring to follow the course we are on, even if momentarily beguiled by their alluring promise.

Yet there is nothing as satisfying as an opportunity taken. The pleasure one can derive from being in the right place when the stars align is an intense and lasting one. A new job seized, a brief respite from the mundanity of daily existence greedily clutched or a beautiful romantic tryst savoured with a lover -- opportunities are there to be seized by those fortunate enough to able to grasp them.

Jordan Henderson has become most adroit in the art of seizing the day. Since arriving as part of the much maligned Brit-pack in the Summer of 2011, the England international has found it hard to command a role in his preferred central midfield berth. However, selected from the start on the right flank by Kenny Dalglish, who was impressed by the youngster's work-rate and pugnaciousness, Henderson struggled to win over the fans but played regularly in the Scot's line-ups. This was because irrespective of his suitability for the role, his application and appetite could never be faulted. Here was a young man of admirable character, determined to make the most of his manager's faith despite some mean-spirited heckling from the stands. Here was a fighter.

Since Brendan Rodgers began his tenure, the Northern Irishman has done much to place his own stamp on the squad. Some of his buys have been resounding successes and some have been dramatic flops, but it has been clear to see the systematic undoing of much of Dalglish's influence. This is increasingly Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool. Although he initially praised the attitude of the England Under 21 captain upon his arrival at Anfield, Rodgers was tempted to use him as a transfer make-weight in a purported deal for Clint Dempsey. Many players would have been crushed by such a clear indicator of where they lay on the manager's priority list. Jordan Henderson dug in.

Rodgers, duly impressed by the tenaciousness of the Sunderland native, began to select him. This time his adaptability was tested further as the manager liked to use him on the left as a kind of 'false winger.' (I know, I know. It's Brendan's term. Next week, we discuss the 'wee seven-and-a-half position.') Henderson again displayed a pleasing vivacity and no small amount of ability. His tidiness on the ball is probably showcased best in the centre, but he was game enough to turn in several man-of-the-match displays on the left and cement himself as a favourite of the manager.

To the admittedly starry eyes of this scribbler, Henderson has looked excellent on the rare occasions he's been able to operate in the centre for Liverpool Football Club. He is unruffled, busy, efficient and possessed of more creativity than his flank displays might suggest. The presence of Steven Gerrard, England captain and Lucas Leiva, Brazilian international, would bar the way for most players and it is testimony to the young Englishman that he has made himself undroppable by excelling in a variety of positions.

On Saturday at Anfield, however, it would seem that Henderson will have the chance to start in the centre alongside Gerrard, with Lucas a frustrated spectator due to his ban for bookings. Preparing the way for such a selection, Brendan Rodgers has been praising his midfielder and speaking about the importance of adaptability in the modern footballer.

"I've been so impressed since I've been here, Jordan has become better and better," Rodgers opined. "His level, tactically, is very good. He's one that wants to improve all the time. If I didn't think he could play the role and function in the roles properly, I wouldn't put him there, so it's great credit to him. At the end of last season, he played as a false-winger from the left, coming inside and got goals. He played his first season here wide on the right. He's played as a wing-back, wide in a midfield four.

"In all the systems, what you get from him is a work-rate and a mentality and Jordan has got quality. I don't see it as a hindrance for him, I only see it as a positive. I know he's really enjoying playing. Whenever he plays there's no drop-off -- you still get the same. He's one of those players that you could play him at right back, which I've done sometimes, and he's got forward well. He's a really good young footballer, whose understanding of the game is improving all the time. That allows him to play in a number of positions."

When questioned about who would start alongside Gerrard against Crystal Palace, the manager broadened the discussion but his unfettered admiration of Henderson's adaptability and game-intelligence seems to suggest it will be him. Rodgers spoke about the characteristics needed to play the central role.

"It's about making the players aware there is a responsibility, tactically.," he insisted. "Whoever plays in there has to understand the dynamic of what is required and they may have to curtail their game a little bit. If you move freely and empty that space, It leaves it too open. Our movement and fluidity in the other half of the field is getting better but you have to make sure you have that tactical discipline and whoever plays in there will have a similar function."

That Rodgers considers the attackers to be in the other half of the field says much about his demands on the two so-called central midfielders and it also explains why your humble scribe has been flirting with a coronary incident on the back of our deep defending this season. Perhaps, Jordan Henderson's mobility and drive will be a revelation to the manager and he will dovetail perfectly with an increasingly quarterback-style Gerrard.

One thing is for sure, if presented, the opportunity will be seized avariciously. Let me be clear. From the moment he pulled on a red shirt, I've been a fan of Henderson. Through his travails I remained unregenerate, berating naysayers on the Kop. I am smug as hell right now. It's probably massively unattractive. I don't care.

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