If the conditions in Manaus live up to their billing, England's opener against Italy has the potential to be a relatively ugly affair. Roy Hodgson's presence guarantees some degree of unwatchability, but the sweltering heat, suffocating humidity, unsettled grass whose color comes from a spray can--these are not the conditions for the 21st century footballer. There will be cramps, cries of agony real and feigned, and accusing looks at the bumpy pitch after a pass or shot doesn't come off as intended. FIFA will be criticized, Brazil's preparations lampooned, Hodgson confused.
And all the while Jordan Henderson will be going about his business as Steven Gerrard's water-carrier and midfield workhorse without bother, as though he feels personally offended at the suggestion that his performance could possibly be influenced by temperatures above 80°F and humidity that renders a shower immediately useless. His hair gel will fail before his engine does.
It will be a variant of what he did to great effect for Liverpool this past season under Brendan Rodgers, with less aggression expected in a style far more conservative than the laser light shows Rodgers' Liverpool tried to conduct on a weekly basis. That likely means far more time spent on the periphery of the attacking third and fewer surging runs forward; Henderson isn't particularly polished in front of goal anyhow, but smart, well-timed runs into space from the midfield became a normal part of his game this season, and while they would arguably be of benefit for England as well, his manager for country will likely shiver at the thought of such recklessness.
He should still thrive, however, as his fitness levels and increased efficiency in distribution should separate themselves in a fixture many expect to be sloppy. We'll see quick, tidy passing to retain possession, smart and timely pressing against a midfield that would otherwise thrive with time and space, and at least one or two sprints the length of the pitch to support England's attacking and/or defensive efforts. Also just to stay loose.
It will be the same Jordan Henderson but different, one who displays adaptability and the type of improved tactical awareness Rodgers has praised. And regardless of what those tactics might be, hopefully one who continues his impressive growth over the past two seasons on the world's biggest stage.