Fresh Face, Fresh Creativity
Liverpool's fall from the heights of the Champions League can almost be fully attributed to Rafael Benitez's poor dealings in the transfer market. Xabi Alonso's departure was tantamount to ridding themselves of the chief creative force behind Liverpool's play; a watershed moment in Liverpool's slump. Lucas Leiva was an ersatz fill-in for the Spaniard, Jay Spearing tends towards being naive at times and Torres was starved of the support that had served him so well seasons ago.
But they have been wiser with their spending ever since, especially now with the acquisition of Jordan Henderson. Along with Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, he forms the attacking forefront of a new wave of English talent. Perhaps a rarity as much as it is a relief, with England's national team having been decidedly disappointing over the past few years.
FIFA's identification of the youngster as one of the rising stars to watch speaks volumes of his value. Aside from regularly providing through-balls to create openings, he adds elements of a conventional striker play to the mix and is more than comfortable on the ball. Everything that would suggest that he could turn out to be an apt playmaker.
It is a role that has never been properly undertaken and the implications have been gloomy; Liverpool suffered from issues with holding on to the ball and distribution well enough. Xabi Alonso managed the role effortlessly, with tremendous passing versatility and accuracy. Henderson could well provide the same, perhaps even usurping Gerrard in that capacity. Partnership options with Lucas Leiva, Christian Poulsen or Raul Meireles will have to be explored, with the combative, industrious style of the latter perhaps a choice match.
Expect the young midfielder to feature in a pivotal role for the U-21 Euro 2011 tomorrow.
Youth and Versatility
Proceedings seem to have hit a bump in the road even after Phil Jones completed his medical, but this is nonetheless a shrewd move for Manchester United. Once tipped as a youthful replacement for the ailing Jamie Carragher at Liverpool, he will now deputise for Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic in the case of either of their absences.
He has whatever it takes to inherit Ferdinand's position, being strong in the air, resolute and comfortable with bringing the ball out of defence. An incredible bargain come to think of it, with the mouth-watering prospect of pairing with the prodigiously gifted Chris Smalling in years to come for both club and country.
But aside from that, he has flourished in a holding midfield role for Blackburn. Something that could prove vital now with Scholes' retirement and Owen Hargreaves' imminent departure. His leadership qualities and gritty determination will usher him well in his new surroundings, wherever role it is he may play.
Despite the young defender almost being United-bound, a problem has arisen over his transfer fee. Venky, the owners, now declare that they will part ways with Jones for nothing but a payment in the £20 million range despite his contract clause being in favour of United's £16.5 million offer. They deem the clause to be now void. An odd development in this matter which will carry on for the next few weeks.
Phil Jones will also be playing for England in the U-21 Euro 2011.