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Henderson proves doubters wrong as he runs the show to help Southgate’s ‘defensive’ line-up trounce Albania

YOU could imagine the moans from armchair critics around the country — an onslaught from the keyboard warriors. Five at the back and TWO holding midfielders, against Albania! Typical Gareth Southgate. Boring. Defensive. Even cowardly. And Jordan Henderson, rather than Jude Bellingham. Jordan Henderson. Come on, what are we scared of? What are you scared […] ...

YOU could imagine the moans from armchair critics around the country — an onslaught from the keyboard warriors.

Five at the back and TWO holding midfielders, against Albania!

Reuters

England midfielder Jordan Henderson scored in the 5-0 win against Albania at Wembley[/caption]

Getty

Henderson has scored just two goals for the Three Lions since making his international debut in 2010[/caption]

Typical Gareth Southgate. Boring. Defensive. Even cowardly.

And Jordan Henderson, rather than Jude Bellingham. Jordan Henderson. Come on, what are we scared of? What are you scared of, Gareth?

Nothing, actually. Absolutely nothing…

Last month, facing Hungary, Southgate cast off his natural instincts and played to the gallery.

One holder, four attacking midfielders. And England stank the place out.

The Southgate regime has been about creating a bond, a pattern, a framework for his stars to sparkle.

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It has resulted in England’s best international tournament run for more than half a century, turning the Three Lions into a force again.

Against Hungary, Southgate’s side crowded themselves out, turned the wide highways into narrow alleys, lost all semblance of conviction and assurance.

Fortunately it was not costly and unless the inconceivable happens in San Marino on Monday, all thoughts can turn to what they can accomplish and achieve amid the sands of Qatar next winter.

But what is clear is Southgate has no reason at all to consider a squad without Henderson — or a team ignoring the balance that makes them a proper team.

Yes, Albania were made to look a shambles at Wembley. That, though, was because England turned them into a shambles.

Because the shape gave poise, patience, possession and certainty.

And at the heart of all of it, allowing Reece James to show why he is above Trent Alexander-Arnold in the pecking order, giving a platform for Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling to sparkle, creating the launchpad for Harry Kane’s fourth England hat-trick, was the Liverpool skipper.

Henderson may have lost his automatic starting slot to West Ham’s Declan Rice — but not his role as one of Southgate’s most influential characters.

He retains the ability to instil calmness and maturity, pick the right pass, at the right time, in the right place.

Henderson has even added goals to his England repertoire, dancing through to clip home the third of a first-half blizzard.

No wonder Southgate loves him around the camp. Henderson is the glue that binds so much of what is good about this England team together.

When Kane made way for Tammy Abraham shortly after the hour, the armband could only end on one player’s left sleeve.

That is why, in  12 months’ time, as Southgate endures the most nervous weekend of his  life, it will be Henderson — every bit as much as Kane and the midfield flair players — that the Three Lions  manager will be biting his nails  to see emerge fit for the grapple in the Gulf.

A year today will see the curtain come down on the Prem for six weeks in which the focus will be Qatar, the first winter World Cup.

And if worries about burnout after Euro 2020 have been this week’s running theme, they will hardly be eased by next term.

An early start — on August 6 — after a mid-June finish for FOUR Nations league games.

AP

Gareth Southgate’s side have won seven out of their nine Group I World Cup qualifying matches[/caption]

Then 16 Prem matches, two more for England and, for most of the squad, six European group stage clashes in the space of just 13 weeks.

England expects, already. Hugely.

Southgate will need all his stars fit and firing. And Henderson, a fulcrum on and off the pitch, is very much one of them.

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