Which midfielders are key to Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool regime?
It has been mentioned countless times before. The rise of the previously much-criticised midfield duo of, first, Lucas Leiva, and then Jordan Henderson four years later.
Lucas and Henderson were on the extreme ends of fans expectations when they arrived at Anfield, mostly due to their individual price tags. Lucas was bought by Rafa Benitez for a princely sum of £5million, whereas Kenny Dalglish splurged around £20million on Henderson. The Brazilian came as a relative unknown from his hometown club Gremio, whereas Henderson arrived as a known quantity to Premier League viewers having played for his hometown club Sunderland. Lucas arrived as a box-to-box midfielder, Henderson spent most of his Sunderland days as a right midfielder.
And that’s is perhaps where their differences end. Signed by different managers as promising youngsters, both started out at Anfield as back-up squad members at best. Both struggled in their first season at the club. Lucas was behind world-class midfielders Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in the pecking order, and whenever called upon, it was no surprise that the Brazilian looked a shadow of his more illustrious teammates. Henderson, too, had to contend with a certain legend in Steven Gerrard and a fellow yet more flash youngster Jonjo Shelvey. Both were on the edges of the Anfield exit as well. Lucas has been rumoured to leave the club during every summer window for the past three years, while Henderson turned down a move to Fulham as part of a swap exchange for American forward Clint Dempsey.
How both players have bounced back from their difficult starts is impressive. How Lucas and Henderson, when fit, are both shoe-ins for Jurgen Klopp’s first choice midfield partnership would have beggared belief only a year or so ago.
Henderson has not only outlasted academy product Jay Spearing and current Swansea man Shelvey, but also improved so significantly on and off the pitch that former manager Brendan Rodgers gave him the captaincy at the end of last season. Klopp has also saw fit to stick to his predecessor’s decision. Lucas managed to emerge from the shadows of Mascherano and Alonso, rose to the challenges from the arrival of Joe Allen to Gerrard’s redeployment as a deep-lying midfielder, and have since outshone recent signings James Milner and Emre Can to secure his position as first choice holding midfielder.
Since the arrival of Klopp, Henderson has not played a single minute due to his injury in late August. Even as Lucas continues to patrol ahead of the back four, the likes of Can and Milner have struggled to replace Henderson’s dynamism and creativity in the centre of the park. Henderson’s return could not be any sooner for Klopp, and the German will be keen for the England international to forge a solid midfield partnership with Lucas as soon as possible.
Henderson’s threat from outside the penalty box will be much welcomed as well, and his tireless energy should allow Lucas, and the back four, greater protection when under opposition pressure. Henderson’s energetic and intelligent closing down of the opposition might ease some of the heavy defensive burden off Lucas, allowing the Brazilian more time and energy to concentrate on the more subtle side of defending, i.e. intercepting passes and reading the game.
The two previously-maligned midfielders could very well provide the required balance, energy, strength, and most importantly tactical intelligence in the central midfield area that will allow Klopp to confidently carry out his favoured 4-2-3-1 plan. Who would have thought then that two players signed by different managers four years apart would have ended up as a new manager’s first-choice picks for what is perhaps the most vital area of the pitch.
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