Why Henderson has to put in big performances during Liverpool's run-in

Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet

Liverpool should demand big performances from Jordan Henderson for the rest of season if he is to continue to grow.

Jordan Henderson will likely be celebrating this weekend having won a bumper new deal at Liverpool.

The England midfielder has for much of the season been the Reds' best central midfielder, displaying a similar engine as Steven Gerrard did in his pomp but with an added quality and authority to his game that has been missing during the 24-year-old's earlier years at Anfield.

Henderson has been an especially key figure for Liverpool since Gerrard's hamstring injury against Spurs in February. In the seven matches since that game, the former Sunderland star has scored four goals, two of which were vital to gaining wins, and assisted twice.

He has skippered the side in 12 out of Liverpool's 32 league games, all but 9 of which have been wins for the Merseyside club, and boasts an impressive tally of 14 assists in all competitions, alongside his 7 goals - both of which are season's bests.

The recent dip that saw defeats against Manchester United and Arsenal, as well as last weekend's devastating FA Cup Semi Final loss to Aston Villa, have not swayed Liverpool from their belief in the England international, and Henderson was rewarded with a new five-year-deal worth a reported £100,000 a week.

With that high profile contract, and the probable key role he will have in a Liverpool side stripped of it's legendary skipper next year, Henderson is set to be judged against loftier targets than he has ever been used to.

Now Gerrard's fairytale FA Cup departure now out of the window, Henderson has to underline his importance at Anfield by putting in a series of top-notch displays between now and the end of the season. Despite his good goalscoring form since February, the Reds star disappointed in the games that really mattered, and if he really wants to prove that he is not only the man that Brendan Rodgers should build the Liverpool midfield around, but also the club's natural successor as captain, then he has to be dominant every time he takes to the pitch.

The big-game defeats were the sort of matches where Gerrard would have made the difference in his prime, and Henderson will now not have the former England captain alongside him to encourage as well as take the flak. He will be the main man.

Of course, Henderson has shown that he is fully capable of driving his team on, as his winning rate as captain this season proves, but what he can't do is let Liverpool, or his own performances, sink into an end of season lull.

Because if he struggles into next year, the accusations that he hasn't been able to adequately replace Gerrard, however harsh they may be, are sure to come too easy.

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