The bad news is that Liverpool captain and central midfielder Jordan Henderson is injured. The worst news is that it’s a knee injury that’ll keep him out for the rest of the season.
The good news is that Henderson has hardly, if ever, suffered a catastrophic knee injury so it should heal faster than someone like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The better news is that he doesn’t even require surgery, so he can jump right into rehab. He will be able to lift the Premier League trophy, come hell or high water.
That’s the situation.
It’s not going to be fun.
I have never made it a secret that Jordan Henderson is my favorite player. Besides the obvious name twin connection, he joined the club shortly after I did as a fan, so my connection to him seemed obvious. Of course I would adopt this scrawny kid from Sunderland as my favorite player — we have the same name, I have to protect him.
He also had an eye for the pitch, playing forward and throwing himself into situations whenever he had the chance on the pitch. Sir Kenny Dalglish signed him in 2011 for, then, a staggering £16 million, and yet he didn’t start every match — considering his competition at the time included Steven Gerrard. He had potential, and an eagerness to prove himself in that squad, that was apparent every time he did get the chance to play. Even when Brendan Rodgers replaced Dalglish as manager and continually played Henderson out of position as a winger, he had to continue to prove himself. There’s a famous story about Rodgers approaching Henderson and telling him that he had a choice — stay and work to earn his starting position, or accept a transfer to Fulham for cash and Clint Dempsey.
Henderson chose to stay and made himself indispensable.
That is, also, the situation. Henderson is our first choice midfield starter. It’s just a fact, as much as some people seem to dislike it. Outside of being the captain, his versatility in the middle of the pitch has cemented his place in every starting XI, if he’s fit. He played the deeper holding mid role for so long that Jurgen Klopp didn’t even know it wasn’t his natural position. His driving box-to-box runs in the attacking role nearly won us the league in 2013-2014. Klopp has even said, “if Hendo is fit, he plays.”
That takes us back to our current problem. Hendo is not fit. Not at the moment.
We don’t often go without him, and the times we have, it’s pretty noticeable how important he is to the squad. Multiple players have come out and spoken of his importance as the captain, but as a player his actions on the field are so influential that it’s pretty clear the rest of the midfield doesn’t know how to act when he isn’t there. Henderson does so much work to clean up and fill in the gaps, moving the ball to the fullbacks so they can do their magic.
He missed out this season after sustaining an injury in the first leg of the Champions League match against Atletico Madrid, and the 2015-2016 season was marred by his absence through plantar fasciitis. Outside of a few other issues, Henderson largely keeps himself in great shape and is one of the most dependable players on the squad.
The impressive stats of Liverpool’s performances with and without their captain make that clear, as well. According to Planet Football, Liverpool have an 80% win percentage when Henderson is in the squad - that drops to 61.5% when he’s not playing. The squad also concede more goals when he’s not playing, letting in an average of 1.76 goals per game, as opposed to .8 goals when he is playing. There is only one other player who has made more passes into the final third than Henderson, and that’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. He knows where to put the ball, who to pass it to, and makes sure that no one else gets it more often than any other player.
While the club and Jurgen Klopp are optimistic that he won’t miss out on the beginning of the upcoming season, in addition to this upcoming absence, any absence will clearly make an impact on the results for the rest of the season.
Thankfully, Liverpool have already locked up the league title so any loss of points at this juncture would just mean a loss of a record and not the loss of a trophy.
Henderson’s presence on the pitch is more about quantifiable stats, though. Most of the work he does goes untracked and unnoticed, as he has always put himself second and the team first. That story about Klopp not knowing he could play further forward? Henderson played that deeper role because Liverpool’s defenses were notoriously shaky up until the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk and Fabinho.
He has never, ever made himself the focus of any game, preferring the work that benefits the team more than himself. He rarely scores, although when he does it tends to be pretty fantastic. During his three match ban in the 2013-2014 season, he volunteered to take on all the media duties so that the rest of the squad could focus on the end of the season.
Someone that does that much work, on and off the pitch, to make sure that the team shines rather than him — the captain of the squad — is going to make an impact. Even now, when Henderson has finally started to win the trophies that he so well deserves, there are still detractors that would replace him with maybe older and more expensive midfielders.
It’s always been more about stats and numbers for Henderson. It has always been about making the team do their job and do it in the best way that they are able, and doing what he can to ensure every victory. So even a simply few days absence, one match, is influential on the team.
We saw it this weekend in Liverpool’s match against Burnley. While Van Dijk and Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum did their best in making up for Hendo’s absence, Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled without someone of Henderson’s calibre helping him out and feeding the ball of the forwards in the way that we needed. The match ended with a disappointing draw, finally ending Liverpool’s win record at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp will certainly have his work cut out for him, with plenty of replacements ready and waiting, and a variety of skills available to him to try and plug into the space that Henderson will have left empty.
It’s a pretty big hole to fill, though, and I don’t envy anyone faced with attempting.
Henderson has made himself so important to the squad, that this injury spell effects more than just me as an ardent fan. It ripples out to the rest of the squad and the rest of the club, even with only three matches left in this weird season.
At least this time we know that it won’t cost us a league trophy.