The rumours attached to the absence of Jordan Henderson have proved to be true, with the midfielder officially confirmed by Liverpool to miss at least several weeks of action.
The Reds skipper has undergone an operation on the injury that he picked up in the recent clash with Everton at Anfield, and Jurgen Klopp will now have to find a way to replace his qualities.
Henderson is renowned for his leadership and determination amongst other intangible aspects but since he’s been deployed as a centre-back, he has been quietly offering a specific passing dynamic that was previously provided by Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutch defender developed a reputation for his long passes from the back; his distribution often provided Liverpool with an avenue into the final third and beyond.
Whether it was a diagonal pass in the direction of Mohamed Salah or a straight ball over the top towards Sadio Mane, Van Dijk regularly showcased his valuable quality in possession.
For a while, Joe Gomez compensated for the Dutchman’s absence.
The 23-year-old has attempted around 5.6 long passes per 90 in all club competitions since 2015, with those defined as ground passes longer than 45 meters, or high passes longer than 25 meters.
That average of 5.6 per 90 is based on around 9,000 minutes of football but against Ajax, Gomez attempted as many as 15 long passes; He’s only attempted so many in a single 90-minute contest once over that same five-year period.
The Englishman wasn’t given much of an opportunity to exhibit his passing on a regular basis, though, after suffering from a season-ending injury himself less than a month later.
Henderson has since picked up much of the slack, with 16 long passes attempted against Manchester City, 15 against Leicester City and 14 against RB Leipzig.
The midfielder appeared to be making a conscious effort to retain the dynamic from before.
The passes were getting Liverpool to the business end of the field at the drop of a hat, while also escaping the high closing down of opponents and shining a light on Salah and Mane’s ability to run in behind.
Without him, the onus will be placed on yet another player to provide Van Dijk’s long passes, whether that is Fabinho, Ozan Kabak, Ben Davies or somebody else.
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The further down the pecking order Klopp has to go to instruct one of his players to play long passes, the more the quality is likely to suffer, which essentially sums up the season for the champions.
Those at Anfield have been desperately trying to play the same way as last season because that is what delivered silverware, but with every passing week, another key individual to the success of that playing style has climbed onto the treatment table.
Liverpool will keep going but without Henderson, Klopp is going to find it even trickier than before to get the Reds back to their usual selves. His absence will be keenly felt in both midfield and defence.