Why Jordan Henderson Must Start For England At The World Cup
On Saturday June 14, England will begin their World Cup 2014 campaign against 2006 champions Italy at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus. Roy Hodgson has until then to find a perfect combination and decide who will start in his midfield at the big event in Brazil.
Hodgson’s England World Cup squad contains a variety of midfielders. The experience of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are joined by the youthfulness of Ross Barkley and Jordan Henderson, while there is also a place for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. There is no doubt that places in midfield are up for grabs, with, fitness permitting, Gerrard is the only guaranteed starter by virtue of his role as captain. His tried-and-tested international partnership with Lampard has never convinced, while Wilshere and Barkley have demonstrated little of late to warrant a starting place for their country. But there is one player who has quietly shone in the Premier League this season, and who could work perfectly for England if he were to start alongside his Liverpool team mate Gerrard in Brazil.
Henderson has played an understated yet pivotal role for Brendan Rodgers’ side this past season. The 23-year-old has been an imperative figure for Liverpool as his constant running and never-ending stamina kept the Reds moving through midfield. Of all the midfielders to go to the World Cup, none have played as many minutes as the former Sunderland man this season. He has played the full 90 minutes in all but one Premier League game this year and missed the final three games of the season due to a suspension. It was clear to see how much the Reds missed him when he was suspended as their title race fell apart completely. At the same time, the fact that he has played regularly and is accustomed to playing the whole 90 minutes will do his fitness levels no harm, and can be an advantage for the team when playing in the demanding conditions of Brazil.
In his 35 appearances this season, Henderson created 62 chances which compared with other Englishmen, was only beaten by Ashley Westwood (63), Adam Johnson (63), Gerrard (67) and Adam Lallana (68), while was way better than Lampard (33), Wilshere (32) and Barkley (25). In terms of key passes, Henderson (55) completed more than any other player in the England squad except for Lallana (63). The 23-year-old Englishman also assisted seven goals which is an excellent stat. Both Samir Nasri and Eden Hazard assisted the same amount of goals as the ex-Sunderland man, but they created way more chances than him. He assisted more goals than Juan Mata, Sergio Aguero (both six) and Lallana (five) as it was slightly easier for him supplying Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez with chances, and that could work well for the Three Lions at the World Cup.
In matches where the opposition have had the lion’s share of the ball, Henderson has found ways to use the possession efficiently in order to keep his team in control. In Liverpool’s matches against Everton and Arsenal, the opposition enjoyed around 60% possession, but despite this, he repeatedly made himself available for his team mates and recovered possession with great accuracy to relieve some pressure and build attacks. The Reds won both games by four-goal margins, and he topped his team’s passing charts in both the games.
It won’t be a surprise that England may experience the same thing that is long periods without the ball in a World Cup group which includes Italy and Urugauy. In this scenario, to have a player like Henderson who has the ability to run box-to-box for 90 minutes and use the ball effectively, could prove invaluable. Where he excels over the likes of Wilshere and Co. is that he can differentiate between being economical and harmless with possession.
Henderson isn’t just about work rate. There is no doubt, he will run from one end of the pitch to the other end for 90 minutes and even more, but he is much more than that. His passing is brilliant, his movement is excellent and his vision to cut open defences and find the killer ball is fantastic. He completed 1753 passes in the Premier League this season, with only seven players having made more passes. If you look at the list, then you will see that most of those players are holding midfielders, and therefore its obvious they would make more successful passes than him. The likes of Gerrard, Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Chieck Tiote and Mikel Arteta are all ahead of him and the fact he plays a far more attacking role than any of those players, it’s a great achievement to complete those number of passes.
Henderson’s overall game has improved a lot under Rodgers’ management and now he is an established first-team regular for his club side. He has also proved his versatility by playing out on the right and sometimes as a right back too. In terms of his defensive contributions, he presses all over the pitch instead of just sitting back and inviting pressure from the opposition team. When in a deeper role, his defensive qualities also come forward. In fact, his defensive clearances (87), interceptions (34) and shots blocked (9) are second only to team mate Gerrard, while are way better than those of Lampard, Barkley, Lallana and Wilshere.
During the Christmas period, former Red and now Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher remarked that Henderson’s stats could very easily be mistaken for those of Gerrard because they were as good as the Liverpool’s skippers, claiming there was no higher praise he could give the young midfielder. Clearly, he is a player who has come of age after a very difficult start to his career at Anfield. His individual displays and current partnership with Gerrard shows what the England national team needs – steel, hunger and determination – to win matches. And the fact he has played regularly for a team that has just finished second in the Premier League should signal that he is ready to be a regular for his country.
It’s time for Hodgson to see and understand the importance of Henderson and start him in midfield because he deserves it than any other player in the squad. At the same time, I feel he could play an important role in England’s’ success in Brazil.