Sport

Jordan Henderson says Luis Suárez changed Liverpool’s mentality

Jordan Henderson has cited Luis Suárez as a major influence on his development at Liverpool and believes the controversial striker deserves a warm reception at the end of his Anfield return with Atlético Madrid.

The former Liverpool forward was jeered for his antics during Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final collapse in 2019, his first competitive appearance at Anfield since leaving five years earlier, and sparked a spat with Virgil van Dijk in a 10-minute cameo when the sides met in Madrid a fortnight ago. Henderson, however, insists that fiercely competitive edge benefited him and Liverpool during Suárez’s three and a half years with the club and the Uruguay international’s contribution should be recognised on Wednesday.

“We all know he’s a top player, has been for a long time, who produced so many good moments at Liverpool,” the midfielder said. “I learned a lot from him while he was here. I’m quite close to him and still speak to him. Now and again I’ll call him to see how he is doing, how his family is doing and things like that.

“I took a lot from him. He helped us a lot when he was at Liverpool with the mentality side of things – how he was in training, how he always wanted to win and how he played through pain barriers. He just wanted to get out and play football and try his best for the team. He helped me massively and made me grow in confidence as a player. I had a good relationship with him on the pitch but also off the pitch as well.”

The Liverpool captain believes any appreciation for Suárez from the crowd should be reserved until after the game, although the 34-year-old may not be overly concerned by his reception. “When Luis was here he was phenomenal for a number of years; he was outstanding,” Henderson said. “The fans know that and will appreciate what he did at this football club. I don’t think Luis will be too bothered [at the reception]. Maybe not during the game, but it would be nice after the game for him to get a nice reception from the crowd.”

Liverpool were drawn in a Champions League group full of European pedigree but Jürgen Klopp’s team can qualify with two matches to spare with another victory. It would be the first time Liverpool have won their opening four games in a Champions League group and intensify the pressure on Diego Simeone’s side, who are level on four points with Porto. Fabinho and Thiago Alcântara are in contention after injuries.

Klopp, who will be taking charge of his 50th Champions League game as Liverpool manager, said: “It would be big [to qualify early]. We usually have a final in the group but I hope that doesn’t happen this year. Of course we want to avoid that, but we can’t take the second step before the first step. We just have to win, and then afterwards we can talk about what kind of achievement that would be.

“For the moment we have to prepare a football game against one of the best sides in the world, one of the best organised and one of the best motivated. They go for everything all the time. We play them now for the fifth time, including a [pre-season] tournament in Munich, so we know a lot about each other. There should not be a lot of surprises.”