Liverpool made it to the UEFA Champions League final and brought the Premier League title race to the last match week. They have a lot of influential players who upped their performances towards the end of the season including Jordan Henderson, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, and Alisson Becker.
However, in the past month, Jordan Henderson managed to show an increase in performance, especially from the expected goals (xG) that he recorded. The combination of gegenpressing and quick plays often makes us forget about Henderson’s role. This tactical analysis will discuss changes in his statistics and their effects on Liverpool’s performance.
Not a typical goalscoring or assist creator midfielder
This season Henderson made 22 appearances as a starter and 11 as a substitute. The number of minutes he played (1893) was still far below nine other Liverpool players. Similarly, Georginio Wijnaldum (2648 minutes) and Fabinho (1923 minutes) played far more often than Henderson.
For a midfielder like Henderson, his influence in the team can’t be measured by goals (one) and assists (three) alone. One of the more prominent statistics is his 3.4 long balls per match.
The statistic is the fourth-best in Liverpool after Van Dijk (5.3 long balls per match), Alisson (4.8), and Alexander-Arnold (4.0). These three players are defenders and a goalkeeper.
That means Henderson is the midfielder who has sent the highest number of long balls. No wonder because his average playing position is often reflected as a defensive midfielder. In the picture above, we can see that his average position is shaped like an ‘H‘. ‘H’ is for Henderson. Is it a coincidence?
Tactical analysis – Increased xG in the past month
Although Henderson seemed more defensive, his playing style also had an impact on Liverpool’s attack. He experienced an increase in xG in the past month (last five matches in the Premier League).
In the first 32 matches in the league, Henderson recorded 0.46 xG (ranked sixth among all Liverpool midfielders) or 3,291.3 minutes per xG. While in the last five matches he recorded 1.02 xG (best among all Liverpool midfielders) or 370.6 minutes per xG.
The statistics are crucial here. Throughout this season Jordan Henderson recorded an average of 0.05 xG per match. But that number increased in the last five matches, especially when he played against Southampton (0.57), Cardiff City (0.39), and Newcastle United (0.33).
Even in the Champions League, he was able to record even better statistics when Liverpool won 4-0 against Barcelona. Henderson recorded 0.45 xG in that match at Anfield.
Henderson’s movement in a long ball situation
Jordan Henderson’s playing area in the past month is indeed further forward. All goals and assists he recorded this season came in the last five matches.
Lately, Henderson has been more involved in Liverpool’s attack phase, even though it happens no more than two or three times in per match. The main scenario in which Henderson contributes is when Liverpool sent long balls to the flanks.
When he isn’t sending long balls himself, Jordan Henderson is running onto them. As the image below portrays, the midfield runners were absolutely perfect in that situation. When he scored against Southampton, he ran to the empty space when a long ball was sent to the left flank zone of the opponent’s defence.
Then against Chelsea, Henderson showed a similar movement. The long ball Fabinho sent to the right flank was received by Salah who then headed the ball into Henderson’s path who had enough space to shoot.
Jordan Henderson‘s best contribution might be best shown in the first goal against Barcelona in the second leg of the semi-final which affected Liverpool’s momentum.
In that first goal, Barcelona can’t seem to deal with midfield runners. They can’t deal with the pressure of being pressed high and when facing runners behind their full-backs.
It was a long ball out of the back that undid them. The ball was dropped into the full-back zone. Jordi Alba won the header but Sadio Mané won the second ball. He then passed it to Henderson. His shot was saved by Marc-André ter Stegen, but Divock Origi pounced on the loose ball.
Liverpool have won in their last five matches in the Premier League. They scored 15 goals and conceded three. Jordan Henderson’s contribution included one goal and three assists. Even though Henderson’s prior contribution to Liverpool’s goals in the league was negligible, he has found rhythm and form.
This tactical analysis showed just how influential Jordan Henderson can be towards Liverpool’s attacking play with his midfield runs. Liverpool sent long balls behind the opponent’s full-backs with the midfielder taking advantage of the distracted players around him. In those situations, he becomes a midfielder who moves up in search of space when the opposing defenders are focused on the flanks.
In the past month, a reborn version of Jordan Henderson has appeared, one which Liverpool will benefit from with the emergence of Fabinho in a defensive role. This has given Henderson another effective role to play under Jürgen Klopp.
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