Pitchside Europe

Forget the ‘SAS’: Liverpool ‘HAS’ a better partnership forming

Suarez and Henderson celebrate cutting another back line to ribbons (Reuters)

When Liverpool got off to a flyer at the start of 2013-14 thanks in large part to the goals of Daniel Sturridge, Reds fans and neutrals alike began to salivate over the prospect of, to borrow a cliché, an ‘SAS’ strike partnership.

I mean, if Sturridge was performing like that with Luis Suarez still finishing up his biting suspension, imagine what the two would be like together in that sort of form!

Of course, it’s never that simple. Especially when it comes to strike duos. Especially in the game’s current environment, where very few teams employ two out-and-out attackers simultaneously any more.

Now, Sturridge is the one on the sidelines, thanks to an ankle injury which will keep him out for around two months. Suarez, meanwhile, has reached all-new levels of brilliance in what is proving to be a superlative spell of free scoring and goal creation.

As it turns out, those early predictions of a killer understanding between two Liverpool players sending them up the league table were half-right.

Instead of it being Suarez and Sturridge, however, the current hot duo is Suarez and Jordan Henderson.

The synergy between a striker and a central midfielder being so encouraging isn’t unprecedented, but it’s certainly not something the majority of spectators would pay attention to as they would the couplings you see occur more naturally at the heart of a defence, midfield or attack.

And yet, there’s something undeniably eye-catching about how Henderson and Suarez are bringing out the best of each other - even if it is early days, in that respect.

Henderson has spent much of his Liverpool career so far being unfairly cast in a similar light to the likes of Tom Cleverley at Manchester United. There are countless other examples at high-end clubs over the years, too.

This sort of player would be the first to admit that they haven’t stepped up their game at such an elite level of the sport, having looked so promising before. And yet, if you trawl social media for their names, most of the opinions you’d find are absolutely vitriolic.

Apparently, if certain players aren’t winning matches single-handedly, they may as well just retire. Yes, that is the mindset of some fans (I find ‘supporters’ far too ironic a term, in this instance).

As fate would have it, Henderson’s finest showings yet in the famed red shirt have been inspired by the form of a man who is indeed winning some matches single-handedly.

Those who watched Liverpool’s two most recent wins over Tottenham and Cardiff will know what I mean. If you didn’t, track down some extended highlights. They are worth studying.


Though Henderson’s career at Anfield so far hasn’t been everything he or the Liverpool fanbase will have wanted it to be (especially at his £16m price tag, which has indirectly piled on the negative feedback), he looked a completely different player whenever Suarez was within passing reach.

He wanted to feed the Uruguayan goal monster. Perhaps he knew that there was a very good chance such assists would lead to goals, and in turn make him look far more effective to those who pay little attention to the nuances of a 90-minute football match, outside of “who did good goal” and “who did bad mistake”.

Such an approach, if that’s what Jordan initially aimed for, is actually a smart way to harvest more support from his own. But it did more than just that.

His successful assists for Suarez were adding extra zest to his overall game. Henderson was sharper in the tackle, more dangerous going forward of his own accord and even covering extra additional yards on the pitch.

Not only that, but if Henderson is to make the England squad for the World Cup in Brazil, an intimate understanding of their group rivals Uruguay’s dangerous forward will help book his seat on the plane just as much as good form will.

Suarez, Martin Skrtel, Jon Flanagan and Henderson on the bench during less certain times for the current hot duo …

In turn, Suarez – who at the moment has every right to go for goal any time the ball’s at his feet in the final third – was exchanging more passes with the England midfielder than usual. He has even teed him up to go for goal himself a few times!

Henderson’s goal against Tottenham came inadvertently off a Suarez effort at goal – and yet, I cannot envision even that goal being scored by the Henderson of seasons past. Would he have had the confidence to have even come forward with the ball initially, let alone be in a great position to lash home the rebound?

Watching Henderson break through at Sunderland while a youth football reporter in the late 2000s, I’d say the teenage Jordan may well have fed off Suarez this well. But definitely not early Liverpool Jordan.

As a result, ‘Pool look like they may finally get the player they forked out eight figures for over two years ago.

While Suarez has just signed a new deal with the club, that of course has convinced absolutely no-one that he will definitely honour every year of the contract. I mean, this is football in the 21st century! Get real, right?

Champions League football is no doubt what the Reds need to ensure he doesn’t lobby for a transfer once again. And yet, even then, it may take more than that.

I’d dare suggest that such team-work with the likes of Jordan Henderson could well be what settles Suarez into life at Merseyside for the long, long run.

Wherever Suarez may go, there will be players like Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho adding their own flair and goal threat one minute, then wasting possession completely the next. He needs to be convinced that the brand of football he leads under Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool has something that even being one of many Galacticos at Real Madrid simply cannot replicate.

Of course, one great understanding between two players won’t be enough. But If someone who appeared to have a stamp that reads ‘REJECT’ hovering over his forehead can re-discover his A-game around the Suarez nucleus, it bodes extremely well for other young players at the club looking to step up to the next level.

As for talk of the Henderson we are currently watching being ready to replace Steven Gerrard, now 33 and 10 years Jordan’s senior, as Liverpool’s lynchpin? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

After all, the last thing Henderson needs right now, having finally overcome a near-crippling burden of expectations at Anfield, is new and even heavier expectations weighing him down.

But in a couple of years’ time, when Gerrard will no doubt be considering when to call it a day, it’s no longer unfathomable to imagine Henderson being able to at least partially fill the giant Stevie G-shaped hole at Anfield.

And the way Liverpool are gradually progressing under Rodgers, it’s also now believable that Suarez will still be there in a couple of years, trading even more goals and assists as part of the by-that-point-renowned 'HAS' (Henderson and Suarez) double act.

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter