Op­ti­mistic Hen­der­son

> LIver­pool skip­per hop­ing Klopp’s new era can ban­ish mem­o­ries of near miss

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

IT WAS on his way out of An­field late on Sun­day af­ter­noon when Jor­dan Hen­der­son faced the in­evitable ques­tion from a re­porter ask­ing for a com­par­i­son be­tween Jür­gen Klopp’s new Pre­mier League lead­ers and the last Liver­pool team who came close to end­ing the club’s long wait for the league ti­tle.

“The team of 2013/14 is in the past,” said Hen­der­son, the Liver­pool cap­tain. Need­less to say, he was whistling in the wind.

At a club with Liver­pool’s keen sense of his­tory, com­par­isons are in­evitable when the prospect of an­other tilt at that elu­sive first League cham­pi­onship since 1990 looms.

Three times be­fore in this cen­tury Liver­pol have been Pre­mier League run­ners-up – in 2001, 2009 and 2014 – and a sta­tis­ti­cal com­par­i­son sug­gests the cur­rent team’s cre­den­tials are as cred­i­ble as any of their pre­de­ces­sors’.

Af­ter all, only Rafa Benítez’s 2008/09 side man­aged the 26point haul that Klopp’s men have earned from their first 11 matches; at this stage in 2001/02 and 2013/14 Liver­pool were three points worse off.

An­other pos­i­tive point of com­par­i­son is Liver­pool’s out­stand­ing scor­ing record so far this term.

With 30 goals al­ready, they have a tally un­matched by any Liver­pool team af­ter 11 League fix­tures since the fondly re­mem­bered cham­pi­onship­win­ning side of 1987/88 which fea­tured the front three of Peter Beard­s­ley, John Barnes and John Aldridge.

It was a more re­cent trio – Luis Suarez, Daniel Stur­ridge and Ra­heem Ster­ling – whom Hen­der­son was asked to draw a com­par­i­son with, given his po­si­tion as a sur­vivor of that near miss in 2014 un­der Bren­dan Rodgers.

To­day, An­field has an­other world-class front three in Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sa­dio Mane ac­cord­ing to Hen­der­son, who be­lieves Liver­pool’s cur­rent at­tack­ing play­ers are “un­stop­pable” on their day.

They cer­tainly were against a Wat­ford side who had no an­swer to the pace and move­ment and in­ten­sity of Liver­pool’s for­ward play.

“They are world-class play­ers,” said Hen­der­son. “Their un­der­stand­ing of the game, not only go­ing for­ward, but also the work rate they all give for the team in terms of press­ing and win­ning the ball back high up the pitch.

“They all help the team de­fen­sively.

“The three of them are fan­tas­tic at that and then go­ing for­ward they are un­stop­pable when they are on it.

“I see them every day,” he added. “It’s a plea­sure to be play­ing with them.

“It’s our job to en­sure that we of­fer pro­tec­tion for them when they are go­ing for­ward and ex­press­ing them­selves.

“As a team I feel as though we have a lot of qual­ity and in the final third they’ve been bril­liant over the past few weeks.”

Hen­der­son was cor­rect to add that “we were very good through­out the whole team” and while doubts re­main about a de­fence which has leaked 14 goals – more than at this stage of any of their three pre­vi­ous 21st cen­tury ti­tle pushes – it was im­pos­si­ble not to ad­mire the re­lent­less en­ergy dis­played across the pitch, which was em­bod­ied by Adam Lal­lana, roam­ing bril­liantly be­hind the front three.

Only Kevin De Bruyne has more Pre­mier League as­sists than Lal­lana’s five, though it is Mane, the £30 mil­lion (RM156m) sum­mer re­cruit from Southamp­ton, who leads Liver­pool’s scor­ing chart with six.

The light­ning-fast Sene­gal for­ward is well on course to sur­pass his Pre­mier League tally for each of his two sea­sons at St Mary’s – where he scored 10, then 11 – and has “gone up an­other level” at An­field ac­cord­ing to Hen­der­son.

“He was a big tal­ent at Southamp­ton. From the per­for­mances he put in and the goals he scored, you could see the abil­ity he had,” the skip­per said.

“Since he’s come here he’s gone up an­other level and you have to give credit to the man­ager and to his staff for that, as well as to Sa­dio him­self for the work he’s put in.

“He’s gone up an­other level tac­ti­cally and in terms of in­tel­li­gence.

I’m sure Sa­dio would tell you the same. But he’s also put in the hard work and that’s what’s get­ting him the re­wards.”

The same could be said the en­tire Liver­pool team as An­field reg­u­lars be­gin to dream again. – The In­de­pen­dent

Liver­pool skip­per Jor­dan Hen­der­son (cen­tre) in ac­tion with Wat­ford’s Troy Deeney (left) dur­ing Sun­day’s English Pre­mier League match at An­field. –

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