19 Feb 19
The Scottish Sun
JORDAN HENDERSON is never going to be a Ballon D’Or contender or a footballer to set pulses racing.
Still only 28, the Mackem has been written off as yesterday’s man with club and country many times this season.
Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, seen tussling with Bayern Munich striker Serge Gnabry, was an inspirational battler and leader on the big stage at Anfield
Liverpool’s club captain is no longer a nailed-on starter at Anfield, as Jurgen Klopp rotates his midfield three.
And his place in England’s engine room is also under threat from the emergence of Declan Rice and Harry Winks.
Yet here, in a mighty clash between two European superpowers, was a reminder of how serious a footballer Henderson can be.
Klopp needed him doubly against Bayern Munich, not just to keep the Liverpool midfield ticking but also to make up for the absence of Virgil Van Dijk, whose leadership qualities were always going to be missed.
Jordan Henderson gave his all to keep Liverpool ticking over against Bayern
Bayern Munich defender Mats Hummels slides in on Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita during the 0-0 Champions League last-16 first-leg draw
And Henderson was up to the challenge – as vocal as ever but also diligent in breaking up Bayern attacks and visionary with some of his own pings forward.
One surgical effort to pick out Mo Salah in the first half was the pass of the night.
Just as important was the way he marshalled a patched-up centre-back partnership of Joel Matip and Fabinho, who dropped back from midfield and grew in authority as he settled in to his unfamiliar role.
Dutch kingpin Van Dijk will be back from suspension for the second leg in the Allianz Arena on March 13.
Fabinho gets to grips with Bayern’s striking legend Robert Lewandowski but it was still experienced Jordan Henderson who was the key influence for the Reds
But with the injured duo of Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren also missing, Liverpool can console themselves with a clean sheet in reduced defensive circumstances.
“It’s not the worst result in the world,” said Henderson.
And a score draw in Munich is well within Liverpool’s capabilities.
Bayern were strong and streetwise, awkward and tight-fisted opponents, even though we knew this wasn’t one of the Bavarian giants’ vintage sides.
But Liverpool still would have won if Sadio Mane, in particular, hadn’t suffered with such a wonky satnav in pursuit of goal.
Frontman Mo Salah shows his frustration as Liverpool failed to make a breakthrough
Liverpool’s finishing was poor and their away form in Europe has been dreadful this term but they are arguably still favourites to win this last-16 tie.
Anyone who’d hoped German football might be seriously on the wane, after a first-round World Cup exit for the national team and leaders Borussia Dortmund getting sploshed by Tottenham, will have been disappointed by this though.
The Bundesliga has, quite rightly, been held up as a des res for young English players so often denied opportunities in the Premier League.
Jadon Sancho has gone on a teenage rampage at Borussia Dortmund, with fellow English kids Reiss Nelson and Ademola Lookman having also enjoyed some success in Germany.
Jurgen Klopp splashed out on midfielders but still relied on Jordan Henderson
And Bayern are hell-bent on securing the services of Chelsea’s Under-17 World Cup winner Callum Hudson-Odoi – having made a £35million bid last month.
But the Bundesliga is not at its strongest. Since Klopp’s Dortmund won their second title in 2012, Bayern have won six straight titles by at least ten clear points.
And now Bayern themselves are in transition under Niko Kovac, an ageing team who spluttered their way through the first half of the season.
With Dortmund surely heading out and few fancying Schalke’s chances against Manchester City tonight, it was down to the old powerhouse of German football to stop all this ‘Premier League Uber Alles’ talk at a stadium where they have never scored.
Sadio Mane was the main culprit as Liverpool wasted some dangerous moments
Despite all the rose-tinted romanticism about magical European nights at Anfield, Liverpool’s home record in continental competition had been patchy prior to Klopp’s arrival.
Since then, though, the Reds have been unbeaten in 19 such matches and on their runs to last season’s Champions League Final, as well as the 2016 Europa League Final, there have been several classics.
The last two Champions League knock-out matches at Anfield, against Manchester City and Roma, saw Klopp’s men steamroller their opponents in the opening 45 minutes of the tie.
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Bayern, surely aware of that trend, were absolutely on it in the opening stages – giving Liverpool’s manager a dose of his own gegenpressing medicine.
The Reds were put under pressure and made to look nervous playing the ball out from the back – on one occasion a panic-stricken Allison losing possession, only for Kingsley Coman to shoot into the side-netting.
Former Arsenal kid Serge Gnabry, who has matured significantly since his days at the Emirates, toasted Andy Robertson early on and his centre cannoned off Joel Matip, forcing Allison into a save he knew little about.
When Liverpool did get into their stride, their finishing was uncharacteristically poor.
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Sadio Mane squandered three decent first-half chances, with Mo Salah and Joel Matip also guilty of shoddiness in front of goal.
Matip was also off-target with one of the best opportunities of the second period.
But two teams with supposedly strong attacks and dodgy-looking defences managed to serve up a goalless draw – setting us up for a second leg which should be gripping.
And after this, Henderson will surely be the first midfielder on Klopp’s teamsheet.