Richard Buxton: Keita, Henderson stepping out of Gerrard's shadow
Henderson and Keita holding their own after unfair comparisons with retired Reds skipper
Escaping Steven Gerrard's shadow has proved an impossible task for Liverpool's midfielders.
None will ever be able hold a torch to the "Huyton Hammer" in the Anfield faithful's eyes.
For those charged with following in his footsteps, even attempting to do so is a futile endeavour.
Both Gerrard's armband and shirt number impose unfair comparisons on their incumbents.
Jordan Henderson, who inherited the armband, cannot drag the Reds kicking and screaming over the finish line in the same way that his former teammate steered them to Champions League glory.
Naby Keita, who took over Gerrard's famous No. 8 shirt, may never hit 30-metre piledrivers with the same regularity as his predecessor.
Collectively, however, the pair appear the most likely contenders to Gerrard's throne.
A 2-0 win over Porto in yesterday morning's (Singapore time) Champions League quarter-final, first leg saw them blend together the best qualities the current Rangers manager displayed at his peak.
They say you should never meet your heroes because they are sure to disappoint you.
With Keita, the opposite threatened to ring true after spending his formative years in Guinea in slavish devotion to imitating Gerrard's minutiae.
For a time, the personal presentation of his idol's No.8 jersey, left unoccupied in the three seasons since Gerrard vacated it, felt more ominous than it had appeared ceremonial.
Yet, events of the past week appeared to have vindicated Juergen Klopp's careful management of Keita, who has scored two goals in as many recent outings. The same can be said of Henderson, who has routinely flitted between the starting line-up and the substitutes' bench this season.
The England international has never invited similarities with Gerrard, through either his performances or on-field persona; they were simply thrust upon him once the die was cast.
By his own admission, Gerrard's footballing ideology was shaped by watching Bryan Robson. He would later stake ownership of the legendary Manchester United skipper's Captain Marvel moniker which is now being festooned on his successor, in seriousness as much as jest.
HENDO MORE LIKE ALONSO
Keen observers at Sunderland instead saw Henderson as more of a Xabi Alonso-lite; a player who could shield the defence while also providing incisive passes and contributing the occasional goal.
Both rightly and wrongly, critics have steadily queued up to lambaste him since a 2011 arrival on Merseyside. Sir Alex Ferguson famously claimed that Henderson's gait was the reason for the Red Devils' decision against signing him before an eventual transfer to their arch-rivals.
Running straight-backed and from his knees, the Old Trafford sage argued, was a recipe for disaster with injuries. Henderson's track record since that withering assessment does not exactly disprove the theory, with a cumulative 342 days and 35 games spent out of action.
Inconsistency has played its part too, with Henderson's displays in Europe's premier club competition often at odds with several of his showings in the English Premier League.
Last month's stalemate with Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 became a personal benchmark.
But the late win over Tottenham, just 12 days later, exposed the 28-year-old's ongoing fallibility in the deep-lying role he was tasked by Klopp to fill for the best part of 18 months.
Succeeding Gerrard, the Liverpool manager believes, made Henderson's task the most difficult in world football.
It is a point he has made both consistently and creatively over the past 18 months, claiming his captain's capabilities and qualities could fill a 500-page book.
Should he lead them to EPL and European glory, the best chapter may be yet to come.
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