Game over! Liverpool need to axe washed-up Henderson

Sam McGuire
Sam McGuire
  • Updated: 2 Feb 2023 12:08 GMT
  • 5 min read
Jurgen Klopp, Jordan Henderson, Liverpool, 2022/23

“Whoever you play, you have to win challenges. It’s something I already mentioned in the dressing room and I will mention it again.”

Jurgen Klopp couldn’t have been any clearer earlier this month. He talked about the need to be more combative following the 2-2 draw with Wolves. In their next outing, a 3-0 loss to Brighton, key components of the midfield failed to react to these words and, as a consequence, have found themselves on the bench ever since.

Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have had to watch on as Stefan Bajcetic and Naby Keita have started the last three matches for the Reds alongside Thiago. The change in personnel coincided with back-to-back clean sheets.

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This run came to an end against Brighton on Sunday but it was a result of a deflection. Liverpool had limited the hosts to an Expected Goals total of just 0.78 in that first half. The Reds were controlling the space, something they’d failed to do when the two sides met earlier in the month. The visitors also looked fairly dangerous on the break. Mohamed Salah had one cleared off the line early on before spurning arguably the best chance of the match when put through by Harvey Elliott.

It was encouraging.

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An alarming drop off

Klopp then made changes just before the hour mark, bringing James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Darwin Nunez on to replace Trent Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keita and Harvey Elliott. It was around this time that Liverpool lost their way. They stopped controlling the space and offered nothing going forward. This cannot be tied exclusively to one player but it cannot be a coincidence that as soon as Keita went off, Brighton appeared to dictate the game much more.

Of course, tiring legs play a part but the Reds had 46% possession during the time Keita was on the pitch and this figure dropped to 40% during the remaining half an hour. The Liverpool No.8 completed 80% of his passes and involved himself in seven duels during his 59 minutes on the pitch.

Henderson completed just 73% of his passes and competed in one duel during his 36 minutes on the pitch.

Again, this cannot be attributed solely to one player, but as soon as one part of your midfield stops involving themself defensively, it becomes a struggle. In total, Bajcetic competed in a total of 10 duels if you include aerials and he won three tackles. Thiago was involved in seven duels too.

Granted, both were on the pitch for longer but let's not pretend as though Henderson was given a brief cameo. With added time, he was on the pitch for the best part of 40 minutes. And this was during a time the hosts were looking for a winner and Liverpool were somewhat under the cosh. A lot of the threat was coming from the Brighton left with Karou Mitoma causing problems for both Alexander-Arnold and James Milner. The latter needed help and he wasn’t getting it.

The Liverpool captain didn’t fail to win his challenges. He just failed to really challenge and that is even more problematic.

A few examples of this can be seen below.

Henderson v Brighton

Henderson v Brighton

Henderson initially stepped up to press Pervis Estupinan. He then puts a little bit of pressure on Pascal Gross. It means the No.14 is fairly narrow as Lewis Dunk clips the ball over the top of Milner and into space for Mitoma to attack.

There are a few issues here but the biggest one is Dunk being allowed to play such a pass under no pressure. If you aren’t going to press the centre-backs then you can’t allow space in behind.

But Henderson’s positioning is another issue. Having initially followed Estupinan into a central area, why does he fail to track the left-back once he vacates that area?

Henderson v Brighton

Henderson v Brighton

This phase of play leads to Mitoma putting in a cross for Solly March which is saved by Alisson Becker. However, look at Estupinan next to the referee and look at the space he’s in.

Mitoma could’ve easily held the ball up in this situation and played it back to the left-back who then could’ve picked out Mac Allister on the edge of the box. Alternatively, the initial cross could’ve been blocked and picked up by the former Watford man. The point is, Henderson wasn’t in a position to directly impact the game defensively.

Henderson v Brighton

Henderson v Brighton

The same thing happened again a few minutes later. Brighton have a throw-in and after originally fronting up Estupinan, Henderson ball watches and ignores the runner.

Henderson v Brighton

Henderson v Brighton

Again, Konate is forced to defend the channel having covered for Milner, who had been dragged inside by the movement of Mitoma.

Liverpool looked stretched as soon as one-third of their midfield adopted a fairly passive approach to defending. Fabinho’s disastrous cameo will dominate the conversation but Henderson’s stint on the pitch was just as detrimental to the Reds.