One of the hallmarks of great drama is when a previously unheralded character turns out to have a significant impact on the denouement that, in hindsight, seems inevitable (Gendry? Samwell Tarly, perhaps? Or maybe one of the surviving direwolves?). Jordan Henderson may be Liverpool captain but, a fortnight ago, who really thought he might have a major say in the playing out of the title race – and that it would be positive?
Liverpool weren’t nervous exactly but five minutes into the second half against Chelsea on Sunday, they were perhaps just at the stage of thinking they needed a goal soon or they would start to become anxious. Manchester City’s victory over Crystal Palace meant they had to win, but playing into the wind howling over the Anfield Road End they had struggled for rhythm in the first half.
Then Mohamed Salah made an incursion and was checked. Never fear: there was Henderson bounding up in support. His first touch took him into space and the Kop bayed for him to shoot: no deft stuff, Hendo, please! But he didn’t. His second touch, at pace, was weighted perfectly to take him to the byline but not beyond, and his third chipped the ball to the back post where Sadio Mané couldn’t miss. The 6 has become an 8 and, for a third straight fixture, he unlocked the game. It was a moment of pure, distilled Henderson: an assist seeded in his enthusiasm but brought to fruition by a level of skill and technical control that often seems underestimated.
Two years ago the German photographer Christian Vieler brought out a book comprising studio shots of dogs as they tried to catch a chewy treat he tossed for them. Look at those pictures and look at Henderson under a high ball. The expression is the same. The same focus, the same desire, the same sheer wonderment to be alive in a universe in which such delights can drop from the sky.