Jordan Henderson is the new 6/4 (PaddyPower) favourite to take home the PFA Player of the Year Award in May, but has the Liverpool captain really been the best player in the Premier League so far this season?
His flexibility is admirable, and he’s taken his level of performance up seemingly year-upon-year since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp. He’s already had his best season in terms of output (three goals and four assists) for the Reds since their torrid 2014/15 season, yet, his contribution to the unbeaten league leaders extends well beyond the goal and assist columns.
His desire and energy levels have meant he’s the perfect player to captain a Jurgen Klopp Liverpool side that can already book the open-top bus for their inevitable May parade. More than his clear passion for the club, Henderson’s shown that he’s tactical aware and willing to adapt to get the best out of those around him, a talent that can’t be quantified or dismissed.
The 29-year-old has been the driving force in the unbeaten league leaders’ midfield this season, playing a variety of roles with distinction. The Englishman has stood out as the deepest midfielder in the absence of Fabinho, earned praise as the furthest forward in the three and looked more than assured when filling in at the back for Klopp’s champions elect.
To understate the captain’s influence and level of performance this season would be foolish, yet, has he really been the Reds’, and the Premier League’s, star performer this term?
Teammates Virgil van Dijk (10/1), Sadio Mane (15/8) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (16/1) will all be in the running for the annual award, with Manchester City’s assist-yielding robot Kevin De Bruyne likely to be the only non-Liverpool star in serious contention for the gong.
There’s definitely an argument to be had that van Dijk is more important to this Liverpool side than Henderson, which is saying something given the Englishman’s aforementioned importance. The Dutch defender oozes class and his authority over the backline has raised the game of any and all of his three most frequent central defensive partners since arriving at Anfield, be it Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip or Joe Gomez.
One of the defenders who have benefited from van Dijk’s presence is Alexander-Arnold. The 21-year-old has given an all-time great individual performance from a defender this season, as he single-handedly dominated the 4-0 win over Leicester in December. Trent capped off an evening that included two assists by scoring a stunner in a game that effectively ended any hopes of a Premier League title race.
As well as that stand-out 90 minute display, the right-back has chipped in with another goal and nine more assists. While he’s the outsider for the PFA Player of the Year Award, a strong end to the end season could see his odds shorten closer to the likes of Henderson and Sadio Mane.
Mane himself was displaced by Henderson to become the new favourite in the market, but a strong return from injury could see the Senegalese forward regain top spot in the betting. It would be no surprise to see the forward looking revitalised after the winter break, having hardly had any time off thanks to his involvement in the summer’s much maligned African Cup of Nations.
The 27-year-old is averaging a goal or assist every 94 minutes in the Premier League this season, having scored 11 and set up eight goals this term. Keep those sorts of numbers up and it would be near on impossible for him to not pick any and every award up come May.
The only man not wearing the Red of Liverpool in contention for the award is Kevin De Bruyne. Manchester City’s creative fulcrum looks set to break Thierry Henry’s long-standing assist record of 20 in a Premier League season, with the Belgian providing 16 goals already this term.
Even if he were to break the record, De Bruyne might be hampered for the award, with City likely using the Premier League as a chance to rest players in the hope of going deep in this season’s Champions League.
Rotation might cost De Bruyne the individual award but it could well be out of his hands if Liverpool continue at their current level, particularly if Henderson, van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold and Mane are all still vying for the PFA Player of the Year award in May.