Player focus: Jordan Hendersons first season

Posted by lachesis on May 10, 2012, 11:35:16 AM

‘There are players who, when you first see them play, make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.  Jordan was one of them.

'I was doing a bit of scouting the first time I saw Jordan play, and you just knew straight away he had something. 

'As soon as we saw him play it was clear he had that special talent. He has the right attitude, too. He has been back to present prizes for us and he never changes.
      - Alan Millward, of the South Tyneside Football Trust.

It's been a strange season for Jordan Henderson and there has been a bit of an ebb and a flow with regards to his performances. You could argue that the inconsistency shown in patches can simply be put down to a higher level of expectation and immaturity of development.

After an unspectacular debut he turned in a performance bubbling with energy and drive against Arsenal which was followed up by his first Liverpool goal against Bolton. After that the team had a disappointing result against Stoke in which the game passed Henderson by. In truth when you play Stoke the game often passes by the whole of the midfield. It is your responsibility to get the ball down and start playing through them which we failed to do with an end result. And that really epitomises Hendersons contributions this season. One minute looking like he might start to repay the faith in his potential, the next looking like he is struggling to make the step up.

As always the truth probably lies somewhere in between. What we need to decide is where he is best utilised for the club and how we can play to his strengths. He has played too many games this season, that much is clear. Unless you are a prodigy you really wouldn't be expecting to walk into the Liverpool first XI at the age of 21 and play pretty much a full league season - with a portion of it clearly out of position.

I think we can say that the experiment to play him on the right certainly doesn't work at Liverpool. It may have bore some fruit at Sunderland but the requirements are vastly different here. His crossing statistics backs this up by placing him almost bottom of the pile with only 16% accuracy. However you can look beyond the accuracy stat to see his actual number of attempted crosses is somewhat low (given his position and minutes played). Suarez and Carroll as strikers are obviously below him and Johnson has produced less crosses partially due to missing 16 league games. Kuyt has produced less crosses due to only playing 20 games himself. Yet look at how high he (Kuyt) appears in the crossing accuracy chart. This vindicates those fans who have said we should have persisted with Kuyt on the wing (especially after the way he finished last season with Maxi).

For me this illustrates that Jordan is not a short term or long term option on the right of midfield.

So where do Hendersons strengths lie? Well believe it or not, recently he became our most consistent tackler with 84% of all tackles successful. The full breakdown of the top 5 is shown below. Lucas still being fourth does not make great reading after being absent for so long. Spearing has only started 15 games himself. It's clear the midfield lacks bite, given Hendersons statistics (buoyed by more consistent midfield appearances recently), it's also apparent that he offers a bit of steel needed for that centre position.

The obvious comparisons here are going to be drawn with the maligned Charlie Adam. Playing poorly but having end product does slacken the chains of mounting pressure but from an actual end product point of view what do you measure - what do you lose in order to gain?

After his goal against Chelsea, Jordan drew level with Adam on goals. Now one argument nullifies another. Adam has been injured and Henderson has been out of position. Both players returning 2 league goals. Adams assists look much more impressive though, but again put them under scrutiny as follows:

And we can see that most of his assists are actually from set plays. Something Henderson has not really been involved in as much. Adam was for a few months in Gerrards absence the sole set piece taker for everything, which gave him a chance to add a few more chalk marks in the assist column. Now don't get me wrong there is still skill in providing a set piece that is accurate and is of sufficient quality but in open play he has one more assist than Henderson. What do we lose? What do we gain?

In the meantime the ugly arguments have reared their head about sideways and backwards passing as well. So here's a graphic displaying his passing stats. His passes forward are almost double that of backward and he has a clear tendency to look right for an outlet (again, almost double). When playing on the right he doesn't have that outlet (there was a period of about 5-8 games where the understanding of Henderson and Johnson did work, especially on the overlap though and did give him an easy ball to prod forward into Glens path).

He's pretty consistent with his goal threat from outside the box and inside the box. Blocked and off target increases from outside the box would be expected to rise with the added difficulty.

Overall, I think he has had a mixed season but one you would expect. There has been little continuity to his development or the players around him. His strengths and attributes are clearly suited to a central midfield and like a lot of players has suffered from the chop and changing of the second part of the season. However, this recent run of good form has come on the back of 6/7 games being played in the same position (arguably his favoured). He does have something to offer us and would be an excellent foil for a more experienced midfield partner. Unfortunately to do that would require a lot more quality on the wings and a lot more clinical finishing from the attacking quartet we are aiming for. With this in place he can go about his business and not feel pressured into stepping up and spanking 30 yard goals in every other game to make up for our toothless attacking play.

 Credit for player render

Stats taken from

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