Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been reflecting on the season so far, how he and his team-mates are keeping in touch and how Jurgen Klopp changed the club’s mentality during an interview with Jamie Carragher for Sky Sports.
Klopp’s side find themselves potentially two Premier League games away from a first league title since 1990, but the coronavirus pandemic has placed professional football at a virtual standstill around the globe.
Liverpool voluntarily suspended all activity at their Melwood training headquarters on March 13 following the Premier League’s announcement fixtures would be postponed until April 4.
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That has since been pushed back until the end of next month, with a further announcement expected on Friday at the next Premier League meeting. It leaves Liverpool – like all Premier League clubs – facing an uncertain time, but the runaway leaders have adapted to the unprecedented set of circumstances.
Henderson told Sky Sports: “We’ve been given our own training programmes to do, a bit like during off season when you’re on holiday doing your own stuff to keep ticking over.
“We’ve got a group chat so we’ve got all sorts of videos flying in with different challenges for us to do. So there’s a bit of banter and just normal stuff, really, so things are going well so far.
“Even the manager’s in the group chat! Everybody is, it’s all one big group chat and there’s all sorts of things which go into it so it’s a good idea in terms of keeping us busy.”
After narrowly missing out on the Premier League title last season to Manchester City, Henderson admits the disappointment spurred him and his team-mates on to go one step further this time around – but Liverpool’s dominance this term has been two years in the making.
Losing the Champions League final against Real Madrid was the worst feeling in my career. It gave us that extra bit of fuel to the fire to go again
“I think losing the Champions League final the year before against Real Madrid, that was the worst feeling in my career in football and for a lot of us,” Henderson said. “Having been through that having played such a good season, I felt we were going in the right direction and were still improving.
“It gave us that extra bit of fuel to the fire to go again the following season. We felt there was still more to come from us as a team, and what we then managed to achieve in the league and the Champions League was fantastic.
“To lose the league on the last day was a sore, tough moment for the team, but then within a few weeks it was the best moment of our careers so far. It was a quicker turnaround in terms of emotions last season, from May to the start of June. It was massive for us as a team to finally get the first trophy over the line. Since then, the confidence has just kept growing.”
Developing a taste for silverware
Liverpool started the 2019/20 campaign with defeat on penalties to Manchester City in the Community Shield, but shootout success would swiftly follow in the European Super Cup against Chelsea.
The message under Klopp was clear back then in August, with the club keen to win as many trophies as possible over the coming nine months.
“It was really important for us as a team,” added Henderson when reflecting on the showpiece event in Istanbul. “Having won the Champions League, we were determined to carry on winning trophies, so it became a habit. When you get a taste for it, you want it more and more.
“That’s what has led to winning the Club World Championships and performing so well in the Premier League. We didn’t just want to be known as the Champions League winners, so to pick up two more trophies so soon after that was really important for us as a team.”
While Liverpool carried on where they left off at the start of the season, despite a curious lack of clean sheets, Manchester City dramatically dropped points at home to Tottenham before defeats to Norwich and Wolves.
It allowed Liverpool to open a six-point lead, which was preserved at Aston Villa in early November after two late goals secured a 2-1 win. It felt a seminal moment in the season, coming the week before the two title protagonists met at Anfield.
“That mentality and resilience within us this season has been massive,” said Henderson. “I feel that’s something the manager tried to instil in the squad when he first came in. When he first arrived, I remember him talking about never stopping and never changing your mentality within a game.
“I remember him saying right from the very beginning, no matter what the score, to keep going until the very end as you never know what can happen in football. If I look back at the games he’s been here I think of the game against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League.
“I feel it’s been a progression over a few years and not just one season. This year has been massive in terms of how consistent we’ve been, but I feel it’s been a work in progress and now it’s just part of our identity to never change the mentality until the game is finished.”
From also-rans to Klopp’s mentality monsters
Klopp attempted to convey this message to the supporters early on in his tenure when he criticised some for leaving the stadium early in December 2015. He was ridiculed in some quarters for locking hands with his players in front of the Kop following a dramatic 2-2 draw at home to West Brom, but the togetherness he has nurtured in nearly four-and-a-half years is paying huge dividends.
“Looking back at that West Brom game, it wasn’t about the result,” reflects Henderson. “It was more about the mentality, and that’s when the manager could start to see a change. There were tough moments within that game, but he was happy with the way we reacted.
“The manager is always looking at how we react to conceding goals or losing momentum. It’s always about how you react, and the manager is always looking for that. It’s been a really big part of our game for a long time now.”
Liverpool duly opened a nine-point lead over City following that win at Villa Park, leading to Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane to describing the title race as “done” by mid-November.
Henderson admits there is a definite rivalry between themselves and City that has emerged over the past couple of seasons.
“Every time you come against them, you know they’ve got such a good team,” he said. “You know it’s going to be a tough game no matter what. Especially with that game being at Anfield, we felt that if we gave it everything, we knew we could hurt them and get a result that would put us in good stead in terms of our position in the league.
“There’s no hiding from the fact it did feel big. When you go head to head with your title rival and win, it does feel like a double hit. It was a big result, but the mentality was still all about the next game as we know how quickly things can change in football.
“It’s a big thing about this team over the past couple of seasons has been the focus and work ethic of the team always looking to the next game very quickly and respecting every team we come up against.”
How Liverpool overcame defining festive schedule
In early December, Klopp surprised onlookers with his much-changed team selection for the first Merseyside derby of the season, coming a week before the squad was due to fly out to Qatar for the Club World Cup.
It was part of a hectic period of 14 games in six weeks either side of Christmas, which Liverpool successfully navigated albeit exiting the Carabao Cup to Aston Villa at the quarter-final stage with an under-strength team.
Marco Silva was coming to the end of his turbulent Everton reign and arrived at Anfield on the brink of being sacked, but despite missing six first-team regulars in Alisson, Joe Gomez, Fabinho, Henderson, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, the hosts cantered to a 5-2 win.
“The manager has always been really big on the strength of the squad,” the Liverpool captain continued. “It’s not just about the 11 that might be playing that day. There’s a lot of good players that might not even make the 18 sometimes.
“When we achieve something, it is down to everyone, not just what everyone sees on a weekend. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and on the training ground where the intensity needs to be high and no one can drop their heads.
“It’s a big strength of ours that we’ve managed to use really well as when we make changes the intensity has been there in training. The manager has shown a lot of faith in young players and he knows we’re all ready to go as he’s seen them throughout the week.”
Henderson revealed a lot of Liverpool’s sessions at Melwood this season have been largely focused on recovery due to the high level of games the side has been faced with, but that has not led to any complacency among those who have been regularly selected.
“As a player, reading into things is not the right thing to do because the manager can always change it,” Henderson said. “Training, no matter what, you need to be at 100 per cent because you never know what team the manager is going to pick.”
It would seem over the past decade, no matter what side has been fielded against their local rivals, Liverpool have had the edge, with Everton’s last win in the derby coming back in October 2010.
Silva became the first Blues manager to concede five league goals against Liverpool in a single match since Howard Kendall in November 1982, but Henderson still views the encounters as significant for those in the city.
He said: “It’s still unique. They’re still derby games, and all derbies are special. Having been here for so long, I do feel that. The manager will always tell us to use the adrenaline that you get for a derby in the right way. It’s about not getting too emotional within the game. We’ve found a good balance of doing that over a long period of time now so hopefully that can continue.”
Liverpool went from strength to strength with a 1-0 win at Tottenham in January meaning the side set a new European points record, taking their tally for the season to 61 from 21 matches – the best start to a campaign for any team in the history of Europe’s top five leagues.
Now 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, a first title in 30 years looked all but assured. Henderson, however, believed those who criticised Liverpool’s performance that evening were right to do so.
“Looking back at the game, it was a great result to go to Spurs and win,” he said. “You can never take wins in the Premier League for granted, but at the same time I felt we should never have got ourselves in the position we found ourselves in during the last 10 or 15 minutes.
“We were so comfortable in the game and we should’ve made it a lot more comfortable with 2-0 or 3-0. It was very close to them coming back into the game and very nearly conceded. But that’s the expectation level of the team. We’re always thinking of how we can perform better.
“We’re always trying to improve, trying to listen to the manager on the training field and trying to implement that at the weekend.”
‘Improvement, not records, has always been the focus’
Prior to the shutdown, Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea and were defeated in extra-time in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid – two setbacks which came after stuttering performances in the league at Norwich, against West Ham and Bournemouth albeit in victory.
The 3-0 loss to Watford at Vicarage Road brought an end to hopes for an undefeated league season, and the chance of eclipsing Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten record.
Henderson said: “We knew the time would come when we might drop points or suffer a defeat. We knew it would come so we were prepared for how to react.
“We never really spoke about the record in the dressing room, to be honest. The main aim was to just keep winning games. The ultimate goal is still to win the league, so after that loss, we spoke and the focus was still on the next game.
“Everybody else was talking about the records, but when you’re winning games and taking each one as they come, the records follow. You’re always just focusing on how you can improve, and that was our thought process after the Watford game.
“It felt really bad, like it does losing any game of football, but it was the manner of the defeat which really disappointed us. It wasn’t a performance that we had seen from us from a long time, but the next day in training, the lads’ attitude was onto the next game, learning from the mistakes we made.”
Liverpool’s procession to their first Premier League title has been put on hold, with the competition’s chief executive Richard Masters holding the next meeting with member clubs on Friday.
Henderson, like most people, is monitoring all government advice with the situation under constant review, but supporters have been assured he and his team-mates will be in the best physical condition possible when the competition finally resumes.
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