The midfielder is now 4/5 to follow team-mates Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk and make it three successive years of the PFA handing the ultimate professional recognition to a Liverpool player.
Mentioning the England vice-captain in the same breath as Salah and Van Dijk emphasises just how vital he has become in the engine room of Jurgen Klopp’s seemingly unstoppable juggernaut as it hurtles towards a first league title since 1990.
Some would argue that he has always been the beating heart of a side that has reached successive Champions League finals, winning one, and narrowly missed out to Manchester City in last season’s Premier League title race despite amassing a staggering 97 points.
But there has been an undeniable change in the 29-year-old’s role that has made him more noticeable – and indispensable – a change that can be pinpointed to April of last year when Henderson explained his more attacking role following a 2-0 Champions League win over Porto.
PFA Player of the Year odds
- 4/5 – Jordan Henderson
- 11/4 – Sadio Mane
- 5/2 – Kevin De Bruyne
- 8/1 – Virgil van Dijk
- 16/1 – Mo Salah
“Obviously, Jurgen saw (me play in) the England games. I felt good playing in that (more attacking) position. I felt more natural and it was something he said he would think about,” said Henderson.
“I can do both positions and he sees I can do both. It’s basically what he wants and needs. I felt more comfortable and natural in that position for England, creating chances further up and doing what I enjoy doing.”
Other than during Fabinho’s two-month injury lay-off, Henderson has continued in that more advanced midfield role for Liverpool throughout this season – and the stats reflect his increased attacking output.
While playing as the team’s deepest midfielder during the 2018/19 Premier League season, he failed to score a single goal and provided just one assist. Spending the final month of the campaign in a more advanced role, he scored once and created two goals.
This term, with the shackles remaining largely off, he has scored three goals, assisted four and most tellingly created eight clear-cut chances – twice as many as during the entire 2018/19 season.
His emergence as favourite for the PFA’s annual award cannot be a coincidence. It is an acknowledgement from his fellow professionals that he is just as crucial to Liverpool’s dominance as their often-lauded front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, marauding full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, and defensive lynchpins Van Dijk and Alisson.
Reinventing his role has reinforced the Liverpool skipper’s importance to his manager too. Henderson has missed just one league match in 2019/20 thus far, already starting the same number of top-flight games (21) as he did during the entire 2018/19 season.
But to claim Henderson has “reinvented” himself does him a disservice. Across the two seasons prior to Klopp implementing Liverpool’s current 4-3-3 formation, and consequent repositioning of the midfielder into a defensive role, he scored 10 goals and provided 16 assists.
He was capable of this all along. The Liverpool boss has simply realised that he can ask for more from his inspirational captain, and to Henderson’s credit he has delivered.
Now it seems everyone else is starting to sit up and take notice.
THE OTHER CONTENDERS
If Henderson is only just beginning to get the credit he deserves, the credit Virgil van Dijkhas received since making a £75m move from Southampton to Liverpool in January 2018 shows no sign of running out.
Remarkably, the man who won the PFA Player of the Year award last season is8/1 to collect the trophy again.Perhaps his peers have simply become bored with how easy he makes football, and defending in particular, look.
On top of that, Liverpool’s comparatively leaky defence, when held up against last season’s miserly backline, in the early part of this term has continued to be referenced by fans and pundits alike.
The cold, hard facts however are that in Van Dijk’s last 12 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions they have conceded just one goal. Throw in that he has completed more than 300 passes more (2,051) than anyone else in the Premier League this season and the superlatives deserve to continue for the unflappable Dutchman.
Sadio Manerounds off the trio of Liverpool contenders for the end-of-season award at 11/4 having stepped out of the shadow of Salah, and even Firmino, to become perhaps the Reds’ most potent attacking weapon this term.
But his form, or at least his goals, have dried up. The Senegal forward started the campaign superbly, scoring 12 times in 18 matches, winning November’s Premier League Player of the Month award and completing 2019 by being crowned African Footballer of the Year.
While he has also contributed six top-flight assists in total as well, Mane has managed to find the net on just three further occasions in his last 13 appearances. That has seen Salah overtake him as Liverpool’s top scorer.
Unless Mane returns from his current injury lay-off in even better goal-scoring form than he started the season in, it is hard to see him picking up a trophy come awards night.
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne – at 5/1 – is the only non-Liverpool player in the top seven contenders, which really should not come as a surprise given the Merseyside club’s unprecedented run of form.
But how unlucky is the Belgian midfielder? Turn the clock back two years and he was the key cog in City’s similarly unrelenting winning machine, which broke record after record and became the first team in Premier League history to amass 100 points.
Despite missing just one league game, scoring eight goals, providing 16 assists and basically being at the heart of everything Pep Guardiola’s side did so phenomenally that season, he was pipped to the PFA award by Salah’s prolific goal-scoring campaign.
Fast forward back to the current campaign, and although City have not been at their near-perfect best, De Bruyne has been better than ever. He is already just a goal and an assist behind those 2017/18 numbers.