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Going the Extra Mile

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Jordan Henderson and Luis Suarez are emblematic of the current Liverpool side's hunger for victory. As a unit, the team has the will to win by the odd goal in seven but much of that is driven by the impetus provided by these two remarkable athletes.

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"It's okay. I'll talk to him, boss." Hendo was in a sulk again. Extra training had been cancelled.
"It's okay. I'll talk to him, boss." Hendo was in a sulk again. Extra training had been cancelled.
Clive Brunskill

Last week we looked at the prodigious fitness of Jordan Henderson and Luis Suarez from the perspective of Glen Driscoll, who's head of performance at Liverpool Football Club. Driscoll marvelled at the physical capacity of both men and implied, quite seriously, that they needed protecting from themselves, such is their appetite for work and inclination to go beyond the call of duty. In many ways, theirs is the attitude which has summed up Liverpool's Premier League campaign to date. Brendan Rodgers' side has shown no small amount of technical elan as they've soared to the top of the scoring charts, but it is the sheer intensity of their efforts which has created a platform for the panache and adroit virtuosity to glimmer so lustrously.

Despite the fact that both are wonderfully talented footballers, a crude understatement in the case of Suarez, it is the frankly staggering intensity of effort displayed by the Uruguayan and the Englishman, in addition to their finesse, which makes them so noteworthy. These are the type of athletes that set the bar unattainably high for others. One can imagine the irked but quietly respectful glances of their peers in training as they win yet another cardio-challenge or retain their bouncy enthusiasm right to the end of a gruelling session. Should Liverpool achieve their desired return to the European elite this year, it will be in no small part due to the inspirational brio of these two on-pitch warriors.

Henderson is a genuinely humble young man whose battles with adversity have built tremendous inner strength and resolve. He has been a leader at every level of football and this season, after his travails in previous campaigns, he has emerged as the heart of Rodgers' side, the pulsing hub of the team's collective energy. Simply put, Liverpool sans Henderson is a weaker and less effective unit. Typically, he attributes his improvement to the work done behind the scenes with the likes of Driscoll and Ryland Morgans, the club's head of fitness and conditioning.

"Sometimes I need people to tell me to rest," he wryly admitted to LFCtv. "After training, I like to do a little bit extra. A few of us do a bit of shooting or whatever it might be, but sometimes you need to give your legs a rest and prepare for the game in the best way that you can. We have the right people at the club to tell you when you can and when you can't do the extra bit. We have the right fitness coaches in Ryland and people in the gym. They make sure that you are at your best physically.

"Some days we'll do strength training and sprint training just to make sure we're in the best condition we can be. All the credit has to go them. If we do it as they say, then we should be in great shape for the weekend. But we need to recover well too. It's just as important after the game that you make sure you recover the best you can in terms of getting the right food down you. Then you need a couple of days' recovery in the pool, doing stretches and things like that. I think 24 to 48 hours after a game is vital in terms of your preparation for the next game."

It is genuinely heartening to hear the trust and belief that Henderson has in the staff tasked with keeping him performing at his optimum level. This, in turn, reflects credit on Brendan Rodgers, who has put the whole jigsaw together. The manager has received some overdue respect for his efforts over the last calendar year but his work with Luis Suarez is perhaps the key to the team's forward momentum.

Suarez seems a transformed individual, adding a new-found restraint and self-discipline to his ample arsenal of weapons. Indeed, as Elizabeth notes in her piece, he has proudly worn the captain's armband on several occasions. As his rating amongst the world's best has soared, so has his capacity to control his inner demons. After last season's ten match ban, the striker is in the form of his life, and despite a comparative drought in the last eight games, he still comfortably tops the scoring charts with 23 goals in just 22 appearances.

Ryland Morgans is astounded by the sheer capacity for work the striker displays on a daily basis. Like Henderson, Suarez does not voluntarily flick the 'off' button. He is also a singular athlete, as Morgans testifies.

"Luis is a fantastic athlete," he told the official website. "You never hear of him being injured - and he gets kicked from pillar to post, week in, week out. So the fact that he's always out on the pitch is a fantastic testament to him. Physically, he is fantastic. He's got a strong muscular system, which allows him to produce those explosive, repeated bouts of effort. He can recover quickly and do it again within a game and then from game to game.

"For Luis, it's about making sure that, because he loves to train and loves to be out on the grass, we modify and reduce the training load that he is exposed to. We do this by making sure that he gets an appropriate recovery from the match. So if we've had a strong game on a Saturday and we don't quite get our recovery right, then that accumulative fatigue will build up over the week and can be taken into the forthcoming match. So it's really about making sure that he can get that recovery right, because he's a fantastic athlete and has a large aerobic capacity, so he's able to continue to run for a 90-minute game."

There are eleven 90-minute games remaining For Henderson, Suarez and their Liverpool teammates -- eleven occasions on which we will all hope to see the young midfielder and the phenomenal striker reproduce their inspirational efforts. Should we be lucky enough to witness both men at their best, the conclusion to this most exciting of seasons will surely be satisfyingly successful.