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Henderson's Defensive Improvements Crucial to Consistency

It may have been a long time coming, but the Reds captain might at last have found his best position.

Liverpool v Manchester United - Premier League
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Liverpool Offside is a Jordan Henderson standard-bearer. We have been so ever since he arrived as a raw 21-year old with an overwhelming £16m price tag — often inflated to £20m — during one of Liverpool's many rebuilds over the years. Having arrived alongside Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing for a combined £80m, young Hendo was quickly bunched in with the rest of the CHAD-crew and dismissed as yet another expensive flop.

Those who dared look beyond the Comolli-enhanced transfer fee, though, could glimpse a combination of talents that, if nurtured just right, could become something special. The rock-solid fundamentals, the head on a swivel, the sweet right foot, and the boundless energy all bore promise of a top-notch Premier League midfielder.

He has been moved around a lot, our captain. From right-wing in King Kenny's 4-4-2, to make-shift right-back. From covering for a dwindling Steven Gerrard in Brendan Rodgers' double pivot, to shuttling for the same man in the 4-D-2 during the exhilarating 2013/14 title chase. His vision and right peg paired with a sense of when to arrive in the box left managers wanting him further forward, his engine prompted them to make him their box-to-box man, and his versatility meant that he would plug holes as they occurred around the pitch. His standing among fans has swung wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other as well, fluctuating from neglected Clint Dempsey makeweight in 2012, through Hendo-hop hero and crucial cog lost in the 13/14 run-in, to respected captain and Diego Costa-domesticator.

In the end, it seems a return to his roots was what Henderson needed. Mainly a defensive midfielder at Sunderland, he has rediscovered his best form as the lone holding player in the single pivot of Jürgen Klopp's 4-3-3. His 5.7 ball recoveries per 90 minutes this year is an increase of 60% over his previous seasons at Liverpool, while his offensive output — in terms of goals and assists — has only dropped by 10% compared to his previous average.

With the Reds coming off consecutive clean sheets in the league for only the fourth time under Klopp, actual defensive solidity might just be within reach.

“It was a big plus for us,” Henderson said when asked if the clean sheet at Everton was important.

“We were very pleased with how we won at Goodison. It’s always good to go there and get three points.

“We defended solidly as a team, we won the ball back quickly and we kept a clean sheet.

“It was a bit hectic in the first half," he continued. "A typical derby game, fast and wild. But I felt we dealt with that pretty well. The performance was good, especially the second half where I felt we dominated.

“We have looked very solid in the last couple of games. It’s always a tough game at Goodison so to play like we did was pleasing."

The job is far from done, of course. Chelsea are six points clear heading into the holiday fixtures, and have looked league-winningly sturdy on the defensive end, while the Reds are on pace to concede 45 goals this year, a record that has only once yielded a PL title. Does Jordan Henderson have some captainly dull words of encouragement?

“Every game we go into we want to get three points because we feel we are a good team who are good enough to beat anyone.

“The aim is to keep performing and winning games. It is important, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is. (...)

“We take each game as it comes, three points is the aim and we’ll see where we are at the end of the season.”

Indeed he does.

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