As always, supporters of the English national team came into the World Cup with that contradictory, but uniquely British blend of lofty expectation and crushing pessimism. Furthermore, with Belgium pasting Panama 3-0 on the other side of the Group G fixture schedule, the pressure was on for the Three Lions to keep pace in their own group stage matchup with Tunisia.
Jordan Henderson received a surprise start ahead of Tottenham’s Eric Dier in the holding midfield role as manager Gareth Southgate picked the most attacking lineup at his disposal. While two set piece goals from skipper Harry Kane, including a stoppage time winner, ultimately decided the match in a 2-1 victory, in truth, England were the vastly superior side with only poor finishing saving their opponents from being blown out.
Excitingly, England played some of the most attractive football seen at an otherwise staid tournament to date, with Southgate clearly taking a page from Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp’s wildly successful playbook. The Three Lions employed a high-energy counter-pressing system focusing on regaining possession high up the pitch and long balls over the top to find speedy runners in behind that led to a flurry of opportunities of on goal.
Accustomed to this philosophy at the club level, Henderson was at the heart of most of the good on the day, shielding the defense to allow Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli to roam forward, snapping into tackles and spraying the ball around the park with aplomb.
Kane may have taken the headlines with his goals, but plaudits for the Liverpool skipper’s performance were near universal.
Newcastle legend Alan Shearer was effusive in his praise of the 28-year-old’s performance:
”I thought he showed his intent very, very early on in the game with that ball which came into him first time, just around the corner pass with the forward running on to it,” added Shearer.
”And if the forward knows a midfielder will do that, it makes it a lot easier for a forward to time his runs.”
Well, Henderson's secured his starting position for the rest of the tournament then. Probably the best player on the pitch alongside Trippier. His distribution was absolutely sublime.— Dharma Bhagalia (@Kloppholic) June 18, 2018
Henderson speaking as well as he played. Top class tonight. Fully justified the decision to pick him ahead of Dier.— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) June 18, 2018
Former Arsenal and England right back Dixon piled on:
“We’ve been singing his praises for the last three or four international [tournaments] and also for Liverpool this season.
“I’ve watched Liverpool a lot and he goes under the radar a lot. He’s that link, that little glue to everything.
“But also his passing over the past two years has got so much better.”
Jordan Henderson pinging passes like: pic.twitter.com/P0YoO2HU3O— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) June 18, 2018
Even ex-Manchester United player Gary Neville was impressed with Henderson’s performance, calling for the Liverpool midfielder to retain his place in the starting line up going forward:
“[Henderson] has evolved his game, he’s matured.
“He wants to learn all the time, he works hard, he’s conscientious, he’s a manager’s dream. And tonight—when he was under pressure (from Dier) to win the spot, he looks like he’s cemented his spot.”
Have we got Jordan Henderson playing centre midfield or Andrea Pirlo.— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) June 18, 2018
The lads pinging it everywhere
While hyperbole and overreaction are par for the course in the British media after a positive England result, it is still encouraging to see Liverpool players recognized for their quality on the biggest stages.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané will both be looking to get in on action for Egypt and Senegal later on today.