Luis Suarez was sensational again but Matt Stanger argues it's just as important to praise the supporting cast. Jordan Henderson's form has been crucial in Liverpool maintaining their unlikely title challenge in the absence of Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard...
By Matt Stanger. Last Updated: 22/12/13 2:45pm
Luis Suarez may be the star but Jordan Henderson deserves the plaudits too
Luis Suarez may be the Premier League's headline act after hitting 19 goals in just 12 games this season, but his supporting cast at Liverpool should also be praised for their role in the Reds reaching the summit. It can be easy to forget that football is a team game when Suarez displays the dazzling form he has shown of late, but it is to the credit of Liverpool's more peripheral squad members that Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard's absences have not derailed an unlikely title challenge.
While Suarez stole the headlines again on Saturday with two superb strikes and an assist for the reinvigorated Raheem Sterling, Brendan Rodgers will be equally delighted with the balanced display of his midfield, which was also a crucial feature in the Reds' 5-0 demolition of Tottenham. Said Rodgers after the victory at White Hart Lane: "I thought how the three of them (Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson and Lucas) complemented each other was outstanding.
"You had Lucas in that controlling role. He did his job with the ball and was aggressive when he didn't have it.
"Joe is a dynamic player and he can control the possession while he's being aggressive in his pressure and Jordan is one who is comfortable on the ball with great running ability to get in and get goals."
Henderson's driving runs from midfield were pivotal in Liverpool's first three goals at Spurs and he continued to excel outside Gerrard's shadow against Cardiff. It was his intelligent pass that set up Suarez's opening goal, before he showed great awareness to play the striker in again with a deft back-heel and then unlocked the Bluebirds' defence for Suarez to unselfishly assist Sterling. It now seems a long time since Rodgers offered Henderson to Fulham in part-exchange for Clint Dempsey - something that "came as a sort of bolt from the blue" to the 23-year-old - and the manager acknowledged his impressive progress this week.
"It was a great buy by Kenny," Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo. "Tactically, his understanding of when to press and when to stay is getting better all the time. It's all down to him. Nobody else."
It's become a real team effort at Liverpool as they sit at the top of the table
Indeed, while it remains undeniable that Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam were a colossal waste of money during Dalglish's reign, Henderson can almost claim to rival Aaron Ramsey's revival at Arsenal. "I worked really hard to come to a club like Liverpool and I didn't want to leave in a hurry," he said after rejecting the move to Fulham, and through his appetite to learn and improve his game he has earned his manager's patience.
It should also be remembered, of course, that despite the ridicule Henderson was subjected to during his first year at Anfield, he was a target for Manchester United before Sir Alex Ferguson's curious concerns over his gait. Those worries have appeared even more bizarre as his reputation has grown this season, especially in light of the ongoing problems in the champions' midfield. Would you rather have Henderson or Tom Cleverley in England's starting line-up at the moment? The answer is simple.
This does not necessarily mean that Henderson is ready for a more prominent role with the Three Lions, nor is his form likely to preclude Gerrard's return when he reaches full fitness, with Rodgers insisting that "you can't rule out the presence and the quality of Steven Gerrard". In contrast with his appraisal of the captain, the manager's emphasis on Henderson's tactical strengths reinforces the opinion that the 23-year-old will always be the bridesmaid while others benefit from his diligence.
Raheem Sterling is back in Rodgers' starting XI and in flying form
This is no bad thing for Liverpool, however, and, alongside Suarez, Henderson has remained a common feature in the Reds' first XI as Rodgers has been forced to adapt elsewhere following the loss of Sturridge and Gerrard. His form has been an example to Sterling and Allen as they also seek to contribute to Liverpool's impressive season and, if the trio can maintain their current rate of improvement, Rodgers may be tempted to avoid disrupting his settled squad when the transfer window opens in January.
Barclays Premier League
|12||West Bromwich Albion||1||1|
|16||Queens Park Rangers||1||0|
|18||West Ham United||1||0|