Talking Points: Praise for Henderson; sympathy for Conte

Date published: Friday 16th September 2016 10:31

Jordan Henderson: Midfielder battles with Eden Hazard

Liverpool’s outstanding first-half display was enough to secure a 2-1 victory at Chelsea. Rob Conlon discusses the talking points.

A Gerrard goal – but a more mature performance

Jordan Henderson

While his goal was reminiscent of the legendary former Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson finally showed a willingness to instead try and emulate another former Reds hero.

Since taking the armband from Steven Gerrard, Henderson has often taken it upon himself to to try recreate those spectacular moments of inspiration which the Champions League-winning skipper became so idolised for. Henderson does not posses those kind of qualities, but when holding a midfield three with the energetic Georginio Wijnaldum to one side and the exquisite Adam Lallana the other, he does not need to. Instead the responsibility is on the former Sunderland man to remain disciplined and allow the more talented players in front of him to work their magic.

At the start of this season Henderson was heavily criticised for his apparent inability to do so, and was particularly savaged after the defeat at Burnley. However his display at Stamford Bridge suggests he is developing a much greater understanding of the role. By the end of the match the former Sunderland man had made more passes than anyone else on the pitch bar N’Golo Kante, who also made 78, but kept things simple rather than try produce the Hollywood style cross-field passes Gerrard was (in)famous for. Meanwhile, in protecting the back four, the 26-year-old produced two tackles, four interceptions (the most by a Liverpool player and as many as the highest from Chelsea) and one clearance.

Henderson’s stunning 34th-minute long range strike may have brought back memories of Gerrard, but the way he first ensured Liverpool controlled the midfield battle was much more like Xabi Alonso.

Transfer blues prove costly for Chelsea

Ivanovic Conte

Unusually for Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, a manager was left frustrated in his attempts to sign new players over the summer, and for the first time this season, Antonio Conte can point to his side’s performance and suggest that’s why he wanted more.

For a myriad of reasons last season, Chelsea’s title winners became incredibly stale and jaded, with the majority performing like a shadow of their former selves.

While the manager may have changed, it cannot be underestimated how hard it can be for players to shake themselves out of such a malaise. And so, while Conte may have reinvigorated Diego Costa and to some extent Eden Hazard, the likes of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic and Oscar remain below par.

Conte made no secret that he wanted reinforcements all over the pitch. N’Golo Kante was a much needed signing in midfield, but the Italian would have ideally landed another central midfielder – Radja Nainggolan would have proved a significant upgrade on the forlorn Matic. Kalidou Koulibaly and Leonardo Bonucci were preferred options at centre-back, but it was left until deadline day to re-sign the unreliable David Luiz.

Michy Batshuayi did arrive but Conte still wanted another striker to allow Chelsea to play 4-2-4, a plan which has been shelved after moves for Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata fell through. Marcus Alonso was signed alongside Luiz in the final moments of the window, but the left-back appears a back-up option rather than a a player to strengthen the starting XI, although the Spaniard should be handed an opportunity to impress after Ivanovic’s wretched first half display, in which he was lucky to stay on the field after a couple of naughty stamps on Lallana’s twinkle toes.

The hosts undoubtedly improved in the second half but when needing fresh impetus Conte could only summon Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Victor Moses from the bench, three players whose future at Stamford Bridge has appeared uncertain. Conte has a right to feel aggrieved.

Liverpool beginning to feel at home in west London

Sadio Mane Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side have developed a reputation as away-day specialists, but their result on Friday night continues an impressive record at Stamford Bridge.

After winning only one of their first 16 Premier League trips to the Blues, the Merseysiders have now won five of their last nine visits, while Klopp has become the first manager since Arsene Wenger to win on his first two matches at Stamford Bridge, following on from last season’s 3-1 success.

Chelsea, meanwhile, haven’t kept a clean sheet in any of their last seven home Premier League games against Liverpool.

After last term’s demolition of City at the Etihad and the four goals at Arsenal in their opening match of this season, the Reds will have no fear visiting any team in the Premier League, with the pace, power and movement of their front five making them a potent attacking threat either on the counter attack or when playing on the front foot.

Whisper it quietly, but if Klopp can help turn Anfield back into a fortress, Liverpool could challenge for the title this season.

Rob Conlon

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