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After spending most of the 2011-2012 season on the right flank, where he was out of position and ineffective, Jordan Henderson finds himself fighting for a place in Brendan Rodgers' squad, with the manager set to use Liverpool's cup participation to find out how exactly to use the midfielder.
The injury to Lucas and the emergence of Jonjo Shelvey has made Liverpool's first-choice midfield relatively clear--Joe Allen will hold, Steven Gerrard will be Steven Gerrard (hopefully an effective version, like we saw Sunday), and Shelvey will be making the surging runs and providing direct support for the forward line. It's shown glimpses of promise, with Allen head and shoulders above the other two in terms of consistency, and it's likely that after Shelvey's suspension is over, normal service will resume.
But the ban for Shelvey opens a space for one of Jordan Henderson or Nuri Şahin to get a brief run in the first-choice eleven, and it appears that both will be on display tonight. There's going to be a quick turnaround for one or the other; Henderson might make more sense given that Şahin's not yet up to speed, but both will have a chance to breakthrough what appears to be a fairly settled midfield three, albeit for a short period of time.
In the case of Henderson, there's still some questions that Brendan Rodgers wants answered, and he's very open about using matches like tonight to start to find his answers:
"Jordan is working his socks off every day. He has got a great appetite to learn; he lives his life right and he doesn't do stupid things off the pitch. He works hard, he works well. Really it is just games like (tonight) that offer me the opportunity to see him. Can he affect the game going forward but play also with that tactical discipline, which keeps us nice and strong in the middle of midfield?"
Fair and necessary questions, and if you're in the camp that wants to see the player succeed--which, you know, is sort of the point of being a supporter--you'll hope that he provides the manager with the type of evidence that'll see him become a consistent and trustworthy option. And it's not just Henderson--Nuri Sahin has a point to prove, as does Jose Enrique, Sebastian Coates, and a handful of younger players that are on the cusp given the club's lack of depth throughout.
Liverpool need players like Jordan Henderson to be ready to influence a match in the style that Brendan Rodgers demands all around the pitch, and if nothing else, domestic and European cup competition are going to give us all a chance to see what they'll be able to offer going forward.