August aside, it took Liverpool nearly three months to have a functioning midfield. The introduction of Lucas provided stability and, more crucially, a reference point for a collective that had badly lost their way. The Brazilian's performances weren't flashy, but they allowed Liverpool to stop the bleeding in a dismal fall, and his presence and reliability allowed Brendan Rodgers to build a functional defense and experiment in attack with the knowledge that the midfield finally existed.
It also allowed Jordan Henderson to flourish, as Rodgers opted to bring the 24-year-old centrally after deputizing on the right for long spells of the fall. It was a change that clearly benefited him, and while Lucas has been absent with injury troubles of his own, Henderson has partnered effectively with Joe Allen, establishing himself as a fixture in Liverpool's midfield.
That role is one that Henderson has embraced, and with Manchester United set to visit Anfield, one he'll be asked to fill again. Ahead of tomorrow's crucial fixture in the top four race, the vice-captain noted (as part of a broader interview that's well worth the time) that the quality of those around him, while currently depleted due to injury and fitness, has allowed him to kick on in the season's second half:
"I have to be very disciplined. I always want to go, to join in, but when you have the attacking players we have, sometimes I don't need to join, I just need to serve the ball into them and stop counter-attacks. I go at the right time. I've been doing the same things from the start of the season but the difference is when you score, you get the headlines.
"When Stevie got injured (with hamstrings in January and February) it was a big blow to us because he's a huge player, he's our leader. But we've got enough quality in the team to handle that. Lucas was outstanding before he got injured. Joe (Allen) has done brilliantly. We challenge each other every day to see who gets the nod for that position, and at the weekend you are right behind them, wanting them to do well. We've got that in the group. Not only have we got good-quality players but we've got some good, humble people as well."
Aside from a relatively poor performance at Swansea City on Monday, Henderson has been leading the charge with a string of excellent displays. His form in the first half of the season, like so many others in the squad, was more stop than start, but after shifting centrally on a more permanent basis--and forming effective partnerships with both Lucas and Allen--he has improved in terms of consistency and influence.
Now the challenge is to continue that trend as the season comes to a close. With Lucas nearly back to full fitness and Gerrard showing that he can be effective in a deeper role as long as the support is there around him, Liverpool's midfield is well set up to push the club forward as they seek to qualify for the Champions League and win the FA Cup in their captain's final few months in a Red shirt.
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