There are two certainties between now and the end of the Premier League season: the first is that Liverpool will end a 30-year wait to be crowned champions of England and the second is that the player voted as Footballer of the Year will come from Jurgen Klopp’s all-conquering team.
That is not to downplay Kevin De Bruyne‘s contribution at Manchester City, because the Belgium international has been outstanding for Pep Guardiola’s side, but even if last season’s domestic treble winners end this campaign with another three trophies — the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League — the best and most influential players have unquestionably plied their trade at Anfield.
It is has become a question of which Liverpool player is crowned as Footballer of the Year, rather than if one of them can win the award.
But how do you separate the contenders and place one of them ahead of the rest?
Alisson has been outstanding in goal, Virgil van Dijk has once again been a colossus at centre-half and both full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, have been, by some distance, the best in their position in the Premier League, and arguably the Champions League too.
Up front, Roberto Firmino has developed into one of the best centre-forwards in the game, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have scored 25 league goals between them to shoot Liverpool 22 points clear at the top of the table.
In recent weeks, Henderson has emerged as a leading candidate due to his increasing importance to Klopp’s side and is now the favourite with the bookmakers to be crowned, ahead of Mane and Van Dijk.
Lifting the European Cup last season seems to have injected the 29-year-old Henderson with new-found confidence and belief.
Having succeeded Steven Gerrard as Liverpool captain, Henderson always had something of an impossible job to live up to Gerrard’s iconic status at Anfield. But nobody now questions Henderson’s credentials and that is a testament to the former Sunderland player’s impact, particularly over the past 18 months.
But despite Henderson’s impressive season, and the bookies’ odds, he is not the outstanding candidate to be named Footballer of the Year.
If you take Henderson out of the Liverpool team, his qualities will be missed, but with Fabinho, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available to Klopp, his absence is not one that could be described as critical for the Liverpool manager.
It is a different story, however, for Van Dijk, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
No defender has won the FWA Footballer of the Year award — voted for by hundreds of journalists who have covered the Premier League throughout the season — since Liverpool’s Steve Nicol in 1989, but Klopp’s defenders have been so important that it is surely time for Nicol to pass on the baton.
Van Dijk, who was voted PFA Players’ Player of the Year by his peers last season, has been a transformative figure for Liverpool since arriving from Southampton two years ago.
He lost out to Man City’s Raheem Sterling for the FWA award last season, but Van Dijk has since ensured Liverpool’s previous defensive frailties have become a thing of the past.
Van Dijk’s “normal” level of performance is so far above any other centre-half in the Premier League that his contribution can be overlooked or taken for granted, but his importance would soon be realised if he were to suffer a significant injury.
The same applies to Robertson, who has been a revelation at left-back since arriving from relegated Hull City in 2017.
In addition to his defensive attributes, the Scot has amassed six assists in the league this season and created nine so-called big chances. He has become the classic wing-back and he would be a deserving winner of the Footballer of the Year award.
The same applies to Firmino, Salah and Mane, but when all criteria is taken into account, there is one outstanding candidate at Liverpool — and that is Alexander-Arnold.
The 21-year-old is the best right-back in the world and he has been an absolutely crucial figure in Liverpool’s incredible season.
Defensively, Alexander-Arnold is improving all the time and his physique ensures that he has the strength and pace to hold his own against anyone.
But it is going forward where the Liverpudlian has had his greatest impact and, so far, nobody has been able to come up with a solution to the threat that he poses down the right.
His long passing into the front three allows Liverpool to rapidly turn defence into attack, while his crossing from more advanced positions is another lethal weapon in Klopp’s armoury.
Already this season he has notched up 10 assists and created 13 big chances. He has also scored twice.
If you had to create a prototype version of the complete footballer for the modern game, you would probably end up with Alexander-Arnold.
But as the Nicol statistic proves, defenders tend to be overlooked when the individual awards are handed out and Henderson may yet end up with the award, largely because of the momentum that has already started to build, through the media and from some former players.
Liverpool have much more impressive candidates than Henderson, though, and Alexander-Arnold’s is more deserving.