World Cup 2018

Henderson proving doubters wrong with England displays

 • by Mark Thompson
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Jordan Henderson has gone quietly under the radar in this England team.

Harry Kane – goal hero; Harry Maguire – heading hero; Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young – crossing extraordinaires. The trio of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, and Raheem Sterling have attracted attention, if not always praise, for their performances, while the three remaining defensive players have all had their moments in the sun.

All apart from Henderson – passed over for the World Cup captaincy, given to Kane instead.

But the Liverpool man has quietly been one of the keys to this Three Lions side.

Conductor-in-chief

Henderson’s primary role in possession is directing play from the middle of the field. That much is clear from watching them play and is evident in his persona radar for the tournament.

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He has been a stable presence on the ball, surrounded by players, in attack and defence, who don’t necessarily tick that box. Dispossessed just two times in the entire tournament, England have rarely been caught out, if at all, due to something that Henderson has done.

But it doesn’t stop in open play. The Total Soccer Show podcast highlighted how Henderson seemed to be the one giving the go-ahead on when to take the corner for England’s opener against Sweden, not Ashley Young, the taker.

It was Henderson’s arm in the air, the usual corner-taker’s signal, while England’s aerial threats milled around. And it was when he lowered it that Young began his run-up.

Henderson can be seen with his arm in the air – not asking for the ball, but directing when it should be taken

Heart of the action

He has also been surprisingly involved in defence, which hasn’t been an easy task. With Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard operating more as attackers than fellow central midfielders, Henderson has had a lot of ground to cover and be responsible for in front of his defence.

He’s patrolled it well, making 2.56 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes, as well as 2.1 aerial duels.

He may have struggled, at times, to help England progress the ball forwards when it’s been stuck with the centre-backs, but that’s not wholly his fault.

None of the three starters at the back have been as progressive with the ball as Gareth Southgate might have hoped they’d be, and Henderson has often been targeted with strict man-marking.

He’s played some fabulous passes at times though, not least the first-time looping ball to Raheem Sterling against Sweden that the Manchester City forward arguably should have finished.

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A forgotten man

A general absence of praise isn’t the only way that Henderson stands out from his team-mates as something of a ‘forgotten man’.

There is the captaincy issue, of course, but there’s also the fact that the Liverpool man has an unbeaten streak for his country of 30 matches, the longest of any English player, according to Opta. Who would have thought it? He’s certainly not the player one would have put down to have such an accolade.

And then there’s the penalty miss against Colombia, the fact that he collapsed to his knees in relief as his team-mates all rushed forwards, in exuberance, when they finally won. Separate, almost.

That’s perhaps the thing, this sense of separateness. Not to suggest a division in the squad, but to say that the rest of the starting XI are exciting in a way that Henderson just isn’t.

The forwards, attacking midfielders, and wing-backs all offer something going forwards; the central defenders are all ‘modern’, in their own different ways; and Pickford is a young hope for the next decade of the No. 1 jersey.

Henderson is, compared to that, run of the mill. Unflashy. Some might say ‘boring’. But, regardless, he’s been effective. What a change to bring to an England men’s national football team.

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