In what is likely to be a very busy summer, Liverpool have already got two new midfielders in the bag, with plenty more linked. Naby Keita and Fabinho will bolster the club’s ranks and numbers for next season, adding some real quality and a threat from that all important second third behind the forwards. Fabinho, as widely reported, can operate in three different positions, but is likely to be operating in a number six role for Liverpool in the next campaign.
With competition for places getting congested already, is it now time to consider the future of current captain Jordan Henderson? With Kieta and Fabinho installed as first eleven material, is there room for Henderson to start week in week out? He has been one of the most divisive Liverpool players in recent years, but one thing looks certain: His previously guaranteed starting-birth is beginning to look a lot less certain.
Fabinho: an upgrade
Fabinho certainly appears to be an upgrade on Liverpool’s current options in that area. As a number six for most of last season at Monaco, he made a staggering one hundred and fourteen tackles in Ligue 1. He is also capable of chipping in with his share of goals too, scoring eight and making five from a defensive position. That’s more than Henderson, Milner, and Gini managed between them all season. Fabinho’s a big physical presence and covers some good ground, averaging ten kilometers a match in the Champions League.
All of this is encouraging in terms of him fitting in with the Klopp mantra of pressing and frenetic work rate. It is also an obvious step up in quality, provided he can adapt to the Premier League. That must remain the one question mark over his signing as the French League simply does not offer the same crazy pace and intensity of the Premier League. All indications are, though, that he won’t find it hard.
Divisive and unlucky
Henderson has no doubt improved enormously under Klopp. He has adapted his game, at the mercy of his offensive stats, to play in the all important boiler room of the high press. Klopp’s game is all about destruction and men like Henderson are his drones, his grafters, and vital to how they play. In 2016/17, Henderson covered on average 11.92 kilometres a game. Such work rate and commitment has endeared him to a large section of the fans, and Klopp clearly appreciates his attitude. The fact that he is one of the last relics of the Dalglish and Rodgers malaise is a testament to his staying power.
That being said, there is a big ‘but’ here, and it must be considered in any fair assessment of the likable captain. Technically, he is not quite good enough at times. Whenever opponents have camped out in their own half or nicked a goal and made Liverpool chase, Henderson can be found out. He does have a tendency to over-hit a final ball, or muck up a good chance to shoot. At times, when you desperately need a goal, you look at Henderson and just know that, a handful of screamers aside, he just doesn’t have it in him.
Bad luck has also niggled at him. Henderson managed twelve goals in two seasons, between 13/14 and 14/15 and was, at times, outstandingly confident with his final ball as Suarez and Sturridge pulverized back fours at will. Perhaps he benefited from a genius like Suarez, but that is to be a tad dismissive. Henderson looked and played as though he was reaching the heights we all hoped he would. And then injuries happened. For a significant part of Klopp’s time at Liverpool he has been hit by that troublesome Achilles and hasn’t quite looked confident with his movement at times. A lack of game time has certainly impacted his form and therefore his confidence.
Still a huge part to play
Klopp is unlikely to get rid of Henderson any time soon. He is too good a player in his role to be sent off elsewhere. One of the arguments used to beat Henderson with over the years is that he wouldn’t get into another top-six team. However, would it be a good thing for one of Liverpool’s rivals to acquire him if he were to become available? The buying club certainly would benefit from his tackling, running, and work rate, even if he would likely be a squad player.
In 2013, Rodgers nearly sold him to Fulham, however it would be impossible to see him move to such a lowly ranked club now. He offers too many useful traits and is an outstanding pro, with many youngsters benefiting from his example.
Klopp has also unlocked his personality a lot more than previous managers. He is no longer a timid player on the pitch, and is much more vocal and mature as a captain, albeit after a rocky start. His gesture after the Roma match, to bring down a flag in support of the stricken Sean Cox, and have the team pose with it, was fantastic and worthy of previous Anfield greats. He was splendid alongside Milner in the epic Champions League run, once again being an underrated grafter in a team full of skill and talent.
Liverpool will have plenty of games next season when they need his legs, attitude and graft to unlock teams to get over the line. If he can carry on where he left off last season, then he could well give Fabinho a run for his money. One thing is for certain though; he is no longer a guaranteed name on the team sheet and at twenty-seven, this may not be acceptable for the England international. Like Milner at City, he may not be content with a place on the bench and force a move if that ends up being his fate.