Pitchside Europe

Henderson staking claim to be Gerrard’s heir

If asked which Liverpool player had created the most chances from open play this season you'd be forgiven for thinking Gerrard, Suarez or Coutinho. You'd be wrong, however, and many would be shocked to hear that the correct answer is in fact Jordan Henderson, with 27.

Slightly bizarre criticism of the midfielder's running style from Sir Alex Ferguson led Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers to claim that he was the most improved player in the league back in October. At the time few who weren't of the red persuasion in Merseyside gave the statement much credence but some eye-catching performances since have led many to sit up and notice.

His display, which included a goal and an assist, at White Hart Lane last week was undoubtedly one of his best in a Liverpool shirt. The 23-year old attempted more passes than any other player on the pitch (63) and with a 92% accuracy, including four key passes, seven out of seven accurate long balls and one accurate through ball. He pulled the strings in the absence of Steven Gerrard, stepping up to the plate to replace a man who will inevitably need to be phased out in the coming years.

Henderson will never be given the burden of doing that outright as no one is ever likely to replicate what Gerrard has done for Liverpool. The one-team player is becoming extinct. However, the Sunderland-born midfielder's dramatic improvements across the field, in more ways than one, should certainly see the handover from Liverpool's captain marvel go that bit smoother.

His work rate has never been called into question but as he matures Henderson is more efficient in his movement and his stamina is a real asset to the side. His creativity is not something that has been given much thought since arriving at Anfield but his decision-making and execution in the final third has improved dramatically and is perhaps the biggest development in his game to date.

Henderson's aforementioned tally of 27 key passes from open play is just two fewer than he managed in 30 appearances last season and one fewer than he managed in 37 in his first campaign at the club. Meanwhile, his average of 16.8 accurate passes per game in the final third is more than twice that of last season (8.2), his three accurate through balls match his tally from 2012/13 and a total of four big chances created is only bettered by 11 players in the entire division.

Elsewhere, only Lucas has made more tackles at the club this season (44) and he's the only Liverpool outfielder to start every league game to date. The one criticism this season could perhaps be that Henderson still doesn't score enough goals and it's one that can be directed at a number of young midfielders. English fans have been used to seeing the likes of Lampard and Gerrard chip in with double figures in years gone by but the latter hasn't been a regular goalscorer for some time now. Indeed, when considering goals from open play Henderson has as many as Gerrard (five) since the start of last season.

From a player that some felt was surplus to requirements at the club less than a year ago, the progression has been dramatic. He's now all but a shoe-in to be part of Roy Hodgson's World Cup party and when Lampard and Gerrard do decide to call time on their international careers Henderson could well be one of those tasked with filling the void.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Martin Laurence - @martinlaurence7