Liverpool had to dig in against Sunderland to earn the victory, with Jurgen Klopp describing the visitors ‘the most defensive side’ he has ever seen. That was evident in the post-match stats with Liverpool dominating possession with 77.5% and having 27 shots during the match. It was a similar story to the matches against Burnley and Southampton. However, this time Liverpool managed to find a way through and that will be a huge confidence booster for the squad. It was important that they found a way to beat sides that set up to contain them and they managed to do so against Sunderland.
They are still missing Adam Lallana in the midfield, but Jordan Henderson delivered a mature display against his former side. In the Liverpool midfield, Henderson has a holding role and restricts his forward runs. He has developed hugely under Jurgen Klopp and is now one of the most consistent players in the Liverpool side. There is an argument that he was awarded the Liverpool captaincy too early and it affected his form at the beginning of last season, but he has grown into the role. His leadership is vital in matches such as these and he stood up, playing a key part in his side’s eventual victory.
His discipline was on display yesterday as he stayed back and prevented Sunderland from being effective on the counter-attack, which would have been David Moyes’ primary game-plan at Anfield. Although Sunderland were defensive-minded, it was important that Liverpool were focused when they did lose the ball as the visitors had goal threat in Jermain Defoe and Victor Anichebe. In terms of ball retrievals, Henderson was the best player on his side as he made four tackles and two interceptions. His positioning and spatial awareness has come on massively under Jurgen Klopp and at the age of 26, he will only improve further under the German.
Despite his defensive role, Henderson managed to influence the match when he did have the ball, with his accurate and probing passing. He finished the game with 91% pass completion from 128 attempted passes. This shows how his ball skills are as good as his ball retrieval ability, which makes him the perfect midfielder for the role that Klopp has moulded for him. During the match, he completed six key passes, showing that he not only retains possession, but he is capable of causing problems for the opposition defence as well. He got the assist for the Divock Origi goal, although the opener was more a result a smart finish from the Belgian rather than an incredible bit of creativity from Henderson.
As well as his impressive passing throughout the match, Henderson put in several good set piece deliveries and these are an underrated part of Liverpool’s game. They are known for their dynamic movement in attack, but they are dangerous from set pieces as well and these could be the difference between a top four finish and a title challenge. During the match, Henderson did attempt two shots, which shows that he can pose a threat at times, but primarily he is focused on his defensive work.
Jordan Henderson and Emre Can have helped Liverpool keep seven clean sheets in 19 league matches under Klopp, while the Reds have kept only four clean sheets in the German’s other 24 Premier League matches in charge. It is clear that Liverpool are a better side defensively when both midfielders are in the side and that has been the case in the last two matches with the Reds keeping two clean sheets. The midfield won’t get the plaudits of the side’s attack, but Henderson was the standout player on Saturday, and played a key role in Liverpool earning a crucial three points to stay in touch with the leaders.
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