With Joe Allen injured and Daniel Sturridge not quite fit or on form, Sunday's match against Aston Villa saw an opportunity presented to Jordan Henderson, who'd fallen out of favor for no reason in particular after a run of matches that saw him rightfully viewed as one of the squad's more consistent and effective members. The arrivals of Sturridge and, later in January, Philippe Coutinho certainly had something to do with it, but Henderson had also fallen behind the struggling Joe Allen, leaving him inexplicably with only mop-up duty in the final minutes of matches.
So he'd have been forgiven--or likely not, considering the insistence some have on still badgering the player based on his price tag or the struggles he had during a first season in which he was consistently played out of position--for looking off the pace at Villa Park, particularly in a Liverpool side that wasn't overly impressive on the day.
But along with Coutinho, Henderson was among the best on the day, running and harrying and working his way up and down the pitch with the tireless running for which he's become known. It was a far from perfect display, but one that added to the growing body of work that's seen marked improvement throughout the season. What was especially impressive about the performance, though, was the goal after being played in by Coutinho, slotting confidently past Brad Guzan with the type of finish that indicated a renewed confidence in a player who hasn't always had that in spades.
For Henderson it was the payoff for extra work and time spent behind after training, a revelation that actually shouldn't be that surprising:
"A lot of players do extra training. I tend to work on my finishing. I think it's important as a midfielder to contribute goals. The goalkeepers stay behind with Mike Marsh along with a few of us. I think I need to improve in a lot of areas. Scoring goals is one of them. It's such an important part of football. If a manager knows he can rely on a midfielder to score a few, it means he's likely to play a lot. You have to find a consistency. Even when you are doing well you can't afford to get too carried away and have too much of a high. But when you're on a low you can't get too down."
It's a mindset and work ethic that's something of a trademark for Henderson, who's been lauded by managers and teammates for the level of commitment he displays for both club and country. In lieu of actual match time, he's managed to maintain focus towards improving, and when presented the opportunities he's managed to make the most of them. At some point you'd figure that'd win over those that continue to deride or criticize him unfairly; there are very valid critiques of his game that can be made, but if you're actually paying attention, they're no more pronounced than any other 22 year-old around.
If Jordan Henderson can continue to apply himself in the manner he describes above, you'd hope there'll be a spot for him at Liverpool for years to come. Systems and personnel may change, but having a player who's willing to commit himself in such a manner is invaluable no matter who's in charge, a point which Henderson's proven time and again this season.