Henderson fills the gap but Liverpool need their right backs
Klopp will hope to have Trent Alexander-Arnold fit for Monday’s trip to West Ham
Jordan Henderson and Demarai Gray in action at Anfield. Photograph: Getty Images
Getting the job done by any means necessary is a trait of any title winner and it will encourage Liverpool, even after an underwhelming draw against Leicester, how skilled they have been at the art this season. “It’s this mindset of ‘finding a way’ that will be critical for us,” said Jürgen Klopp on what is required in the final four months of a tantalising campaign. For the first time this season the leaders found no way to victory over a team outside the Premier League top six, but it could have been worse.
Klopp has sought a variety of internal solutions to the problematic right-back position that Leicester belatedly exploited at Anfield. On Wednesday it was Jordan Henderson’s turn to fill a role that Nathaniel Clyne, Rafael Camacho, Fabinho and James Milner have all assumed in recent months due to injuries, suspensions and illness. The England man deputised well but at cost to the control and balance of the Liverpool midfield. Klopp must hope positive medical bulletins on Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who may return from knee-ligament trouble for Monday’s trip to West Ham, are accurate and that relief is on the horizon for the run-in.
“We had to find a solution,” the Liverpool manager explained of Henderson’s switch. “We tried Rafa Camacho as well because Hendo couldn’t train all week but in the end I decided for a more defensive and experienced solution in that position because they go for that side. [BEN]Chilwell enjoys their offensive game, he is overlapping constantly, and I didn’t want to give Rafa, in his first game, such a big test. But Hendo did really well. It was all good from that point of view.”
It may not be what the club captain wishes to hear for the long term but on the limited evidence from his Liverpool career, Henderson makes for an able full-back when need arises. You had to go back to April 2012 for the midfielder’s last extended display at right-back. That was at Blackburn Rovers when Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper Doni was dismissed after 25 minutes, prompting the then manager Kenny Dalglish to substitute Jon Flanagan and move Henderson into the back-line with impressive results in a 3-2 win. Klopp’s switch also paid dividends initially, although Claude Puel’s strange decision not to target Liverpool’s well-documented weakness with Demarai Gray helped the midfielder settle into an unaccustomed role.
Henderson did not have a direct opponent to track for 23 minutes, with James Maddison tucked inside on the left and Gray starting on the right. That gave the 28-year-old freedom to support the attack in a dominant opening by the home side. He was so supportive as to be further forward than Mohamed Salah when Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk exchanged passes on the left of the home defence, putting him in position to deliver inviting crosses for Xherdan Shaqiri and Roberto Firmino during the brightest spell.
The captain’s crisp passing on a difficult, icy pitch was as sharp as his crossing. It contributed to the 30-pass move that resulted in Sadio Mané’s swift breakthrough and offered Salah several opportunities to run at Chilwell and Harry Maguire. The two defenders were outstanding throughout, however, and won their individual challenges regularly.
Henderson’s only problems in the early exchanges came from self-inflicted errors. An over-elaborate backheel on his part squandered possession and resulted in Joel Matip collecting a booking for a foul on Jamie Vardy. There was also a minor penalty scare when, from the first of two wayward clearances by Alisson, Maddison tumbled over the emergency full-back inside the area but his appeals for a spot-kick were rightly dismissed by the referee Martin Atkinson.
Only when the Leicester manager corrected the error midway through the first half and switched Gray to the left, pinning him on Henderson, did the flow of the game and the quality of Liverpool’s performance turn. In an instant, the right-back had to abandon his attacking duties and concentrate on previously untested defensive duties. His absence from the midfield battle was felt keenly as Naby Keita and Shaqiri struggled.
Gray sprinted clear when Leicester first broke after Puel’s tactical change. His dangerous low cross towards Vardy was intercepted by Van Dijk who, having missed several days training over the past week through illness, was caught out when Maguire equalised. Henderson and Van Dijk were the defenders closest to the England international when Chilwell’s header dropped back into the danger zone but Maguire was the latter’s man and was lost to damaging effect.
It could and should have been worse given the quality of chances Leicester created and missed. Gray broke free on the counterattack in the 73rd minute but wastefully shot straight at Alisson instead of squaring for the unmarked Marc Albrighton. A point gained on Manchester City at the top, but Liverpool departed with regret.