Richard Buxton: Sevilla collapse shows Henderson's inadequacy as Liverpool captain
Liverpool skipper Henderson's anonymous outing at Sevilla highlights major flaw in the system
Whenever things appear to be finally on the up for Liverpool, complacency takes hold.
Another backward step was evident to everyone apart from Juergen Klopp as they threw away a three-goal lead to be held 3-3 by Sevilla yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The Reds were 3-0 up after just 30 minutes thanks to a Roberto Firmino brace, which sandwiched a Sadio Mane strike. But Sevilla rescued the game with a Guido Pizarro goal in the third minute of extra-time after a Wissam Ben Yedder brace got them back into the match.
From one extreme to another, the Reds simply refuse to find the balance of a happy middle ground.
Everything is as abject as it is spectacular.
It was no different in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan; they were all set to coast through to the Champions League Round of 16 with a game to spare as the untouchable winners of Group E following a runaway first-half performance.
When they needed an authoritative figure on the pitch to calm the nerves of troops panic-stricken by the rising Sevilla force, captain Jordan Henderson was nowhere to be found.
Sure, Liverpool's destiny remains in their own hands.
But, in their current state, they can surely do without a final winner-takes-all group encounter with Spartak Moscow next month.
Defensive shortcomings do not excuse the current problems, but have largely masked them.
A brief renaissance in the four games following last month's humiliation at Tottenham Hotspur proved to be little more than yet another false dawn.
The true, harsh reality lies in a continuing lack of leadership by those expected to provide it.
A top-down approach was the winning formula during Liverpool's decades of dominance but Henderson has produced the opposite effect across his three seasons as captain.
Clueless, quite literally, as to how Klopp's players had faltered in the second half, the midfielder was also quick to point the finger of blame at referee Felix Brych's decisions.
But the buck stops firmly with the England midfielder and, to a slightly lesser extent, his teammates.
There is a reason for Liverpool not reaching the Champions League's knock-out stage in nine years.
They have allowed Steven Gerrard to leave without a legitimate succession plan in place, and the chickens have come home to roost.
Until then, they always had figures like Gerrard, Graeme Souness or Alan Hansen to rally the troops when the chips were down.
I am not sure (how the collapse happened). The first half was very good, disciplined, scored good goals. The second half was very bad.Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson
Even less-imposing personalities such as Ronnie Whelan and Jamie Redknapp provided more genuine substance than what is currently on display.
Henderson is drowning in a role he has assumed out of necessity rather than genuine merit.
In the frying pan of Andalucia, the 27-year-old - not for the first time - wilted in the heat of battle, aimlessly chasing shadows instead of combatting real men in white.
Mimicking Gerrard's mannerisms simply highlights his leadership deficiencies.
Stripping Henderson of the armband would merely sidestep the elephant in the room, rather than tackle it.
No outstanding candidates have shown that they are capable of stepping into the breach when Liverpool's backs are against the wall, as they have been this season.
Klopp has fashioned a team both fluid and interchangeable but it comes at the cost of any genuine on-field presence.
The approach works like a charm against opponents as weak-willed as the man that uneasily wears the distinction of the captaincy.
It floundered against Sevilla, smooth European operators who proved too wily, too tenacious.
Should a resurgent Chelsea emerge with maximum points from this Sunday morning's (Singapore time) Premier League encounter between the two sides, the countdown on Henderson's time at the top with Liverpool must begin.
OTHER GROUP E RESULT
- Spartak Moscow 1 NK Maribor 1