Henderson says hello and waves goodbye in one go

Liverpool's new midfielder admits to feeling a bit unsettled by having to square up to his old Sunderland team-mates on the Premier League's opening day, writes Simon Hart
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The Independent Online

For the first time in his life next Saturday Jordan Henderson will want Sunderland to lose.

The young midfielder may have had a boyhood soft spot for Manchester United and David Beckham in particular – a topic best avoided around Anfield – but Sunderland are the team he grew up supporting and, moreover, the club who nurtured his talentfrom the age of seven.

Next Saturday will be different, though. If Henderson gets his wish, he will line up against the Wearsiders in the red of his new employers as Anfield gets its first real glimpse of Kenny Dalglish's new-look Liverpool. It is one of those quirks that football throws up and the 21-year-old admits it will be strange – not least with family and friends supporting the opposition.

"I've got good friends there still," he said. "I'm looking forward to the game and hopefully it's a good day for Liverpool. It might be a bit strange but I've got a job to do for Liverpool now."

Henderson is the youngest of the midfield trio – all British as is Dalglish's evident preference – on whom nearly£45 million has been spent. He is a player whose energy, power and passing ability could mark him out as "the next Steven Gerrard" – at least in the words of the original one, whose absence until September with a groin infection appears less significant than it once might have been, given the surfeit of midfield talent that includes Henderson's fellow newcomers Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing.

Henderson is looking forward to working with his new captain. "He has been one of the best players in the world for many years. It will be great to train and play alongside him. I don't model myself on him or anyone. I try and do my own thing on the pitch and will look to keep going in the right direction.

"I've got to do what I did at Sunderland which brought me here – to keep improving and working hard," added the England Under-21 international, who registered 79 appearances and five goals at the Stadium of Light. Those statistics help explain the raised eyebrows at the size of a transfer fee that could rise to £19m; this would make him among the six most expensive players in Anfield history yet Henderson's only concern is "to get on with it and settle in quickly".

Capped once by England against France last November, he hopes to follow the lead of his former England Under-21 colleague Jack Wilshere who shone for Arsenal after blossoming on loan at Bolton. "Jack did really well at Bolton and that gave him great confidence to go into Arsenal team and do well. HopefullyI can come to this club and perform the same as he has."

Unlike Andy Carroll, the previous north-east native to head to Anfield, Henderson did not depart his home region with any baggage pertaining to his private life. Roy Keane, the manager who gave him his Sunderland debut, once spoke of his "innocence" while Steve Bruce said he had "never given anyone a moment's trouble".

He might even avoid stick from the Sunderland supporters on Saturday, or so he hopes given the spending spree facilitated by his sale. "I had a great time there and the fans were brilliant with me. I don't see any reason why that would change," he said, adding: "I think the signings Steve Bruce have brought in are really good."

If Bruce's team – incorporating nine new faces – needs fine-tuning, the same goes for Dalglish's Liverpool, not least in midfield. When the Merseysiders won the 1981-82 League title, Bob Paisley used 15 outfield players; three decades on, today's Liverpool squad features almost that many midfielders alone. Thirteen have first-team experience although several should depart as Dalglish cuts the dead wood, with Christian Poulsen heading a queue that includes AlbertoAquilani, Joe Cole and possibly Raul Meireles.

Dalglish's tactical flexibility was a feature of his first five months back at the Anfield helm and it will be intriguing to see how he juggles options that also include Lucas Leiva, last year's fans' Player of the Year, the versatile Dirk Kuyt and homegrown Jay Spearing. Henderson should benefit from his ability to play on the right as well as in the centre, though given his relative inexperience, Adam and Downing could make the more immediate impact.

Adam's feats in his first Premier League campaign – 12 goals and nine assists in 34 League games – could have been scripted by Roy of the Rovers but for Blackpool's relegation. His passing ability suits Anfield's traditions and his set-piece delivery will suit Carroll. The same could be said of Downing for his crosses, and if he seems expensive at £20m, he was Aston Villa's Player of the Year for 2010-11, contributing nine League assists and scoring seven goals.

For all the talk of regaining their Champions' League place, one commentator this week suggested Liverpool could resemble a rich man's Blackpool: plenty of attacking flair – let us not forget Luis Suarez – in tandem with a leaky defence.

Prior to yesterday's friendly against Valencia they had conceded three goals in five successive pre-season games, though Dalglish may yet get the funds to strengthen his backline. With Martin Skrtel injured, Daniel Agger injury-prone and Jamie Carragher 34 in January, Dalglish is interested in a centre-half in addition to the expected arrival of a left-back, potentially Newcastle's Jose Enrique.

Whatever the jigsaw adds up to, there is no doubting the "positivity", to use Dalglish's word. Anfield will hope to savour that feelgood factor for itself next weekend – strange as it may feel for the Hendersons.

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