Saturday, January 19, 2013
ESPNsoccernet: January 20, 9:18 AM UK
Henderson shines in Reds' rout
Richard Jolly, Anfield
It took the best part of an hour to turn the clock back 39 years, to 1974, when Brendan Rodgers was one year old and a Liverpool player last scored in each of his first three games for the club. Then it was Ray Kennedy, bought right at the end of Bill Shankly's reign and prolific at the start of Bob Paisley's. His Anfield career turned him into a triple European Cup winner but the arrival from Arsenal had a different sort of treble after a trio of appearances.
Now it was Daniel Sturridge, another who swapped London for Liverpool, the £12 million signing joining illustrious company. A bundled, close-range finish furthered his fine start and illustrated a voracious appetite for goals.
And yet, on a day when virtually everything went swimmingly for Liverpool and shockingly for Norwich, Sturridge's scoring touch may have been less relevant than a moment when he left the ball. If the headline act was the first signing of 2013, the inspiration was a man, in Jordan Henderson, long deemed among the worst of 2011.
Because, after Henderson began a rout, Sturridge's most significant contribution was one to make a mockery of the statistics. Touches are measured, assists counted; the former Chelsea forward man mustered neither officially while creating a goal. As Lucas Leiva passed forward, Sturridge realised that Luis Suarez was bursting from deep and running beyond him. He dummied, fooling the Norwich defence, and the Uruguayan advanced to sidefoot in the 20th goal of a productive season.
"The second goal was a wonderful demonstration of how players can link together," said Rodgers. "It was great vision from Daniel. I have seen it in training."
A wider audience witnessed an instinctive understanding; quicksilver combination play is now a feature of the Liverpool attack. "When you look at their front two and their movement, it makes it very difficult," said Norwich manager Chris Hughton. Rodgers, believing his top scorer is benefiting from having company and a kindred spirit in attack, added: "They combined very well. Suarez has been incredible for us for this season but we have now got a recognised goalscorer up alongside him."
Indeed, Sturridge's was the sort of goal too few players in Liverpool's recent past would have scored and was the product of a predatory instinct. Yet there was also a significance to the supply line; Stewart Downing's volleyed cross travelled along the corridor of uncertainty and gave him just a second Premier League assist for Liverpool. It was preceded by a classy, cross-field ball from Henderson.
It capped a terrific display. While Sturridge has had an immediate impact at Anfield, Henderson's £16 million signing from Sunderland preceded an extended struggle. Long denigrated and castigated, he is finally being celebrated. A glorious opening goal, struck with power and placement from the edge of the box, was his first in the league since Kenny Dalglish's final match at Anfield.
That preceded Liverpool's attempts to send him to Fulham in part-exchange for Clint Dempsey and a belated revival that has enabled him to form part of Rodgers' plans. Unselfish industry has meant he has gone up in the collective estimation, to the extent that many were disappointed when he was omitted from the starting line-up at Old Trafford.
Yet craft is required as well as graft to flourish at Liverpool. This was a goal to highlight his technical ability. "What a strike it was," said Rodgers. What an afternoon, too: finding Henderson's rightful role in the team has been an 18-month test. Here he was a temporary, but effective, solution to a problem position, tucked in on the left of midfield, allowing Glen Johnson to overlap outside him, in a new-look 4-4-2 where Suarez and Sturridge were paired.
Besides his youth, adaptability, energy and moments of quality are reasons why he may prove the only survivor of the gruesome foursome who cost Liverpool a combined £80 million and Dalglish his job. Charlie Adam has been sold, Andy Carroll loaned out. Downing's position is under threat amid Rodgers' ongoing attempts to recruit a younger, quicker winger. Henderson's position in the squad seems the most secure even if his ideal spot in the side is occupied by the in-form Steven Gerrard.
"He used every club in his bag," added Rodgers of his dominant captain. "He was phenomenal." Gerrard drilled in the fourth goal with a clinical swing of his right boot. Norwich themselves contributed the fifth, Ryan Bennett turning in Raheem Sterling's cross.
"We were well beaten by a very good team," conceded Hughton. "We weren't good enough." For much of his Liverpool career 'not good enough' would have sufficed as a description of Henderson's efforts. Now, as one expensive recruit drew level with Ray Kennedy, another provided a ray of light.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jordan Henderson - Excellent. Henderson has made too few telling contributions in his time at Anfield but the first goal was crucial in a game like this and he supplied it.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: An excellent team performance. With three successive home wins, Liverpool are starting to succeed at Anfield again, albeit against inferior opposition. Suarez, Sturridge, Gerrard and Henderson all impressed while Johnson enjoyed himself as an attacking left-back. The absence of the injured Pepe Reina hardly mattered with Brad Jones barely tested.
NORWICH VERDICT: Poor, as Hughton accepted. They missed Sebastien Bassong, who was out with a calf injury, and theirs is a season of extremes: no wins in seven, followed by 10 games unbeaten and now five defeats in six. If it is relegation form, the same was said when Liverpool beat Norwich 5-2 earlier in the season. Hughton masterminded a revival then. He needs to again.