Growing up, it was always the fairest way to decide teams in the schoolyard. Two players would take turns choosing one other player at a time, drafting the best available for their team until everyone was picked. At the top were the best-of-the-best, the difference makers who could win games if they were in the right frame of mind. At the bottom, there were the players that nobody really wanted, but everyone had to be involved, so their lack of footballing ability meant they were left until last.
When Jurgen Klopp chooses his Liverpool XIs, he possibly follows a similar approach:
All the way down until he gets to the ninth player in his team:
Henderson is like the kid who was picked just above the dregs at the end because he was the kind of player who would work hard, but never be a matchwinner by himself, nor would he be culpable if the team lost. A nice guy, who usually got chosen a bit higher than his ability merited because he could be counted on and was good for team morale, if little else.
When Klopp discusses the 27-year-old, it is usually in defence of his club captain and full of praise and admiration for everything Henderson brings to the squad. The former Sunderland midfielder was handed the armband following Steven Gerrard's Anfield exit, and as a result, Klopp believes he is unfairly treated.
“Jordan is a proper captain,” Klopp told reporters in November. “He wasn’t when I came in but only because he didn’t know how to do it because nobody had to think about how to be captain at Liverpool because they had one for around 20 years.
“So from the first moment whatever he is doing, it is not good enough because even when he is good he is still not as good as the other one was."
Henderson was never going to be the new Gerrard for Liverpool. He was a wise choice for captain when the Reds legend left the club, but since he received the armband in 2015, the club has moved on. He was an effective midfielder in 2014-15 and 2015-16, but unless partnered by someone like Gini Wijnaldum in the Liverpool middle, is often exposed in games where he is used as the deepest of a midfield three.
Klopp's 4-3-3 system does not suit Henderson. He does all the things a captain should do: praising team-mates, providing instructions and pointing at defenders to get them into position. But he does not do all the things a proper defensive midfielder should do: protect the back four, tackle well and keep focused for 90 minutes.
The 36-time England international is not a bad player, certainly not. The stats back this up. He has not committed any errors leading to shots, and attempts 79.53 passes per game on average. But his tackling success of 64.29 per cent is indicative of his failings as a top four player.
Liverpool have their sights on being Premier League challengers and want to have success in the Champions League, but are being held back by their loyalty to Henderson. RB Leipzig's Naby Keita is a box-to-box midfielder who is the type of player the Reds need to run their midfield, but Klopp has denied that they would try to speed up their move for him and will not sign him any earlier than next summer.
None of the players currently at Anfield are better options than Henderson in a 4-3-3. Emre Can is a fine midfielder, but like the Englishman, he is also better suited to being part of a midfield pairing. Wijnaldum is the same. All adequate players, but not good enough for Klopp's preferred approach.
Until Liverpool sign an elite defensive midfielder, Henderson will retain his place in the starting XI. But if Klopp wants to challenge for the title, then he needs to dump the 27-year-old and find someone better. Keita is coming, but someone else is needed. With the Reds 18 points back and already out of the title race, this season's Premier League is not achievable, but Liverpool should sign someone in January and start building for 2018-19.
Nice guys who are good for squad spirit and team morale are not going to win you titles.