<
>

Henderson is no Gerrard but Liverpool captain still leads Klopp's men

play
McManaman: Klopp has no excuses (3:44)

Former Liverpool midfielder Steve McManaman speaks exclusively to ESPN FC about Liverpool's progress under Jurgen Klopp. (3:44)

It was first mentioned by Adam Lallana earlier in the week, but Jordan Henderson has now provided more details about the "players only" meeting he organised in between Liverpool's dreadful 2-0 loss at Hull and their morale boosting 2-0 win over Tottenham.

It's easy to be cynical about such things, or to jokingly ask "Why didn't he call it at the beginning of January instead of February?" but the point is that as club captain, Henderson took the initiative and did something proactive. For that he should be applauded.

Whether such meetings genuinely solve the problems a struggling team is having is debatable, but it's also irrelevant as long as the players feel like it has made a difference. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but if it works then who cares, right?

So much success in football can be attributed to confidence. You can't win without it, and Liverpool had seemingly lost theirs during a poor run of results during January that threatened to drag into February when they were beaten so disappointingly at Hull.

In the aftermath of that wretched display, Henderson called a meeting of the first team players in which everyone was encouraged to have their say. Only those present will ever know what was said and by whom, but the whole world could see that Liverpool clearly looked like a different team the next time they set foot on the field.

After a meek surrender at Hull they came out swinging against Spurs. The intensity was back in their play and the free flowing, exciting attacking football that had been thus far absent in 2017 made a most welcome return.

Of course it is only one game and Liverpool's players still have an awful lot to prove over the next couple of months if they are to convince supporters their January wobble was just a freakish run of poor form and not a sign of them being unable to handle top level pressure.

Whenever things start to go wrong for the Reds, Henderson is usually one of the first to have the finger pointed at him by some fans, regardless of how he himself is performing. He actually played well in January and couldn't have done much more than he did to prevent Liverpool's slide, but that didn't shield him from criticism or questions about his leadership.

Henderson's biggest crime appears to be that he is not Steven Gerrard, a man who would frequently come to Liverpool's rescue in times of need and who was often referred to as "Captain Fantastic".

It's an unfair burden on Henderson as not only is he nowhere near the player Gerrard was (very few are), but he is playing in a completely different position than Gerrard did when he'd often win games almost single-handedly. When Jamie Carragher wore the armband, nobody expected him to be the match winner or questioned his leadership when the team underperformed, so why is it different for Henderson?

Presumably because he's a midfielder, but in Klopp's system it isn't Henderson's job to go charging forward looking to be the hero. He's a deep lying playmaker whose main responsibility is to quickly get the ball to the more attacking players in the side, while shielding his defence by covering the space vacated by the full-backs when they go forward.

He performed his role well during Liverpool's bad run, but unless others are doing their job equally as well -- as they were earlier in the season and last week against Spurs -- then much of Henderson's work will count for nothing.

He's never going to grab the headlines like a Sadio Mane or Philippe Coutinho, but Henderson has had an excellent season, despite often playing through injury. Whatever statistical category you want to look at for players in his position, Henderson is right up there. N'Golo Kante is in a league of his own, but if you take the Chelsea man out of the equation then Henderson's form exceeds that of any other defensive midfielder in the country.

The reason some fans will question him when things aren't going well is simply because he wears the armband. A captain is supposed to lead by example and drag teammates through bad spells, but playing the position Henderson does, there's only so much he can do.

Take that defeat at Hull for example. Henderson was one of the few players who didn't let himself down on the day, yet he still received plenty of criticism afterwards because he's the captain and therefore higher standards are expected. Liverpool fans were spoiled by having Gerrard for all of those years, and Henderson is often judged unfairly because of it. It's hardly his fault though if Coutinho goes missing or the centre backs inexplicably allow Oumar Niasse to run clean through on goal.

Henderson isn't the greatest captain Liverpool have had but he's far from being the worst either. He doesn't do the things Gerrard did on the field but in the dressing room and around the club there are definite similarities. Henderson played under Gerrard's captaincy and has clearly learned a lot from it.

Like Gerrard, Henderson is liked by and has the respect of his teammates. He sets a great example to them with his exemplary professionalism and work ethic, and he's shown genuine leadership by calling that players only meeting that some players believe has helped the team rediscover its mojo. That was something Gerrard would have done too.

He might not be a Graeme Souness or a Gerrard, but Henderson's captaincy is the last thing Jurgen Klopp needs to be concerned with as he aims to take Liverpool back to the top.