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Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson has discussed the “different” challenge he faced playing centre-back in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
With star defender Virgil van Dijk ruled out of the contest because of illness, the Reds only had one fit senior centre-back available in Joe Gomez, with Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip also absent.
Henderson stepped in to play alongside Gomez, and while Liverpool were not as secure as has come to be expected, he performed admirably in the 2-1 win over Monterrey.
The midfielder said he’d be happy to fulfil the role again in Saturday’s final, although he’s hoping Van Dijk is available to play, per John Cross of the Daily Mirror:
“It was different! I had fantastic players around me and they helped me out. When you have that quality around you, it makes it a little bit easier. It was different to anything that I have been used to.
“I’ve played at full-back but I’ve never played there before. I just tried to do my best for the team and thankfully we got the win in the end.
“I don’t know what will happen with Virgil on Saturday. Fingers crossed he will be OK. Of course, if the manager needed me to go there again, I would do it. It is anything to help the team.”
Liverpool were far from their best in the semi-final encounter, and they needed a last-gasp goal from Roberto Firmino to book a spot in the final:
On Saturday, the Reds will face South American champions Flamengo as they seek to secure the trophy. Given the superior quality the Brazilian outfit have in attack, the match is set to be a much more challenging one for whoever plays at the back.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp provided an update on Van Dijk’s condition after the semi-final, per Dominic King of the Daily Mail:
Per ian Doyle of the Liverpool Echo, Van Dijk was involved in Liveprool training on the eve of the encounter:
Stepping in for the Dutchman would be a challenge for any player in world football, never mind a player who has barely played in defence before.
With that in mind, Caoimhe O’Neill of the Liverpool Echo thinks Henderson did a creditable job as a defender:
However, BBC’s South American football expert Tim Vickery thinks the absence of Van Dijk was noticeable during the game:
Flamengo’s main strength is in their attacking play. Their star man in the Copa Libertadores was Gabriel Barbosa, who is a razor-sharp striker with clinical finishing quality; he’s set to be supported by the creative talents of Giorgian de Arrascaeta, Bruno Henrique and Everton Ribeiro.
As much as Henderson would turn in a determined performance if he was to be used at the heart of the Reds defence, Liverpool’s chances of capping their memorable 2019 with more silverware would be significantly enhanced if Van Dijk was available.