England star Jordan Henderson must rise again to Luka Modric challenge after agony of Champions League Final

simon johnson
Evening Standard

Jordan Henderson has passed every test at the World Cup so far, but now he faces the man who played a key role in the biggest disappointment of his career.

Henderson’s distribution from in front of the back three has been a key factor in England’s impressive march to the semi-finals here in Russia. The 28-year-old has not always convinced Liverpool supporters of his abilities — let alone England’s — yet those dissenting voices have fallen silent.

For the most part, 2018 has been the making of Henderson. His game has reached new heights, first by captaining Liverpool to the Champions League Final and now being an influential member of England’s exciting World Cup campaign as deputy to Harry Kane.

Raheem Sterling, who knows him well having been team-mates at Liverpool between 2012-15 as well as with England, certainly thinks so. “Jordan has taken his game on to another level. He has played a massive part for us,” he explained to Standard Sport.

“He has controlled games really well and been a real presence sitting in front of the defence. He is a leader in the dressing room and we are all happy he is playing so well.

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“Playing in the Champions League Final has given him more belief. When you play in these matches, it really builds you up as a player. It gets you full of confidence.

“He has been on one of the highest stages already, he knows how to handle the pressure.

“It’s a credit to Jordan. He has had a great few years, a great 12 months and, hopefully, he will keep continuing to build for our team.”

In Moscow on Wednesday night, Henderson has a chance to be a part of history by helping England reach the World Cup Final for only the second time. Worryingly for the midfielder, though, Luka Modric is once again standing in the way of him fulfilling his dream. Little more than six weeks ago, Modric was pulling the strings for Real Madrid as he helped the La Liga club beat Henderson’s Liverpool 3-1 to lift the European Cup. It certainly will not feel that long ago or even that far away to Henderson — the match took place in Kiev, just 469 miles from the Russian capital.

Henderson’s crestfallen face at the end of the match spoke volumes and he admitted the defeat was “going to hurt for a while”.

Two glaring errors by Lorius Karius, a stunning overhead kick by Gareth Bale and an injury to Mohamed Salah were huge factors in the scoreline, although Henderson admitted that Real Madrid had been the better team, regardless.

The silky smooth Modric was a key part in that victory and he is having a similar influence on Croatia, too. They may not have maintained their high standards set in the group stages, which included a 3-0 demolition of Argentina, but the 32-year-old continues to shine. So much so, he is being talked about as a possible winner of the Golden Ball, which is the award for the tournament’s best player.

With England’s opponents until now largely sitting back and inviting them to attack, Henderson’s defensive abilities have not been put under much strain. It will surely be a different story at the Luzhniki Stadium.

If Henderson needs any source of encouragement, he could just talk to one of the five Tottenham players in England’s ranks. After all, they were involved in the 3-1 win and 1-1 draw against Real during the Champions League group stages last autumn.

Kieran Trippier is part of that group and while he is full of respect for Modric’s abilities, he does not believe England or Henderson should be overly concerned.

“Everyone knows his qualities, he keeps the ball so well and can run a midfield,” said the wing-back.

“I played against him in the Champions League last season and you could see his ability on and off the ball. He is world class and has won a lot of trophies.

'World class': Trippier respects Modric's talent but believes England should be confident (REUTERS)
'World class': Trippier respects Modric's talent but believes England should be confident (REUTERS)

“But I just think we have to focus on ourselves. We have good players in midfield, players with a great engine. Jordan has shown throughout the tournament that he can run all day. To keep Modric quiet, it’s about being disciplined and keeping our shape.”

Henderson has eased fears about another potential obstacle to winning his rematch with Modric, suggesting tightness in a hamstring felt late on against Sweden will not rule him out of the line-up in two days’ time.

Significantly, unlike Paul Gascoigne at Italia ’90, he will not have the threat of missing the Final through suspension hanging over him if he receives a booking on Wednesday as all yellow cards were removed following the quarter-final stage. Jesse Lingard, Kyle Walker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek can also breathe a sigh of relief.

Sterling feels Henderson will go into the contest happy not to have any disciplinary issues on his mind from the start.

“It will be a relief for him and the others,” explained the Manchester City forward. “You always go into a game trying to block everything out and if there is a tackle you need to make to stop a goal, you have to do it.

“You can’t think about the next game because the current one is the most important. But I am happy that no-one is suspended for Croatia and everyone is available to go again.”

Should Henderson get the better of his duel with Modric second time around, it may just be enough to put England into their first World Cup Final since 1966.

 

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