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Henderson looks the part as Captain Marvel relishes pivotal role for Liverpool

  /  autty

Listed in the contents of the matchday programme was a little phrase. It used to be part of Anfield’s lexicon but, in recent years, has disappeared.

The title for pages six and seven was ‘Captain Marvel’ and once you flicked to it, you were greeted by an image that may yet come to symbolise Liverpool’s campaign.

There was Jordan Henderson, roaring in delight, as James Milner, Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino mobbed him.

It was taken last Friday night at Southampton after Henderson had scored his first Liverpool goal since September 2017; it was, undoubtedly, a huge moment in the season and it was one that seemed to awaken a wider interest in the 28-year-old.

This was the kind of goal, of course, that Steven Gerrard used to score. For the best part of 12 seasons, his performances demanded such a glowing phrase be wheeled out so it felt significant that it was deemed appropriate for it to be introduced.

Henderson, be sure, will feel uncomfortable with it. He has never once tried to mimic Gerrard in how he has gone about leading Liverpool since succeeding him; he is a different person, with different qualities and he wouldn’t have lasted six months in the role if he had gone about trying to emulate his old mentor.

What should not be overlooked, however, is the balance and quality Henderson gives to this Liverpool. His leadership and ability to unite the dressing room is critical but there is more to excelling for Jurgen Klopp than just being a firm voice and big presence.

Henderson has been asked by Klopp to do a very specific job this season – shielding the back four, staying disciplined, being economical with his ball use – but recently the pair have spoken, as the former Sunderland midfielder felt he could add an extra dimension to the team.

Some used to say he was limited on the ball but anyone who saw his 30-minute cameo for England in Montenegro last month, when he threaded the eye of the needle to pick Raheem Sterling out, will know the claim was risible.

So here was, entrusted with a spot on the right of Liverpool’s midfield, and licence to keep them on the front foot in the first leg of a tricky Champions League quarter-final against Porto. You could see from the opening exchanges that the responsibility enlivened him.

Each time the ball arrived at his feet, it was popped away with pace to another Red shirt and always forward. Football, really, is a simple game and the efficiency with which he played contributed to a flying start. It is no exaggeration to say Liverpool could have had this wrapped up in half-an-hour.

The pick of his work arrived in the 26th minute, when he received a ball from Roberto Firmino and, without hesitation, rolled a pass that sliced Porto’s defence and enabled Trent Alexander-Arnold to dash in and provide a cross for Firmino to turn beyond Iker Casillas.

But there were other moments and he was only millimetres away from providing an assist of his own, with a clipped ball to the back post; Sadio Mane dispatched it with a super finish but the Senegal forward had strayed fractionally offside.

Put simply, Henderson was an influence from start to finish. There were other big performances, not least Naby Keita who looked like the £52.5million man Liverpool secured from RB Leipzig, but this was a success that had the skipper’s fingerprints all over.

He won’t want any platitudes nor will he pay any attention to them: you can be clear, however, that the captain is flourishing. The phrase in the programme served notice to that.