Jeff Hendrick notched up his first goal for new club Burnley against Watford on Monday night. The Irish midfielder rose highest in a congested penalty area to head in a Steven Defour corner and give his side a 1-0 lead.
Hendrick’s star has risen steadily over the last few years and having established himself in Derby’s first team, he then forced his way into Martin O’Neill’s starting eleven. After playing an integral part in some of Ireland’s most crucial qualifiers for Euro 2016, he excelled beyond all expectations at the tournament proper.
His performance levels in France meant his departure from Derby was inevitable – he’d, simply, outgrown the Championship. Burnley made a derisory offer – believed to be in the region of £3 million – that was flatly refused before eventually agreeing to cough up a record transfer fee of £10.5 million for the midfielder.
In Monday night’s game against a dangerous Watford side, Hendrick was deployed in the number ten role. Tasked with supporting lone striker Sam Vokes, he even found himself the furthest man forward at times. Being so far ahead of the ball while his team were trying to build attacks meant that, despite getting up well to take his goal, the first half passed him by a little.
Starting in such an advanced position meant he found himself receiving the ball with his back to goal more often than not and was completely at odds with the barnstorming performances in France that convinced Burnley to break their transfer record to secure his services in the first place.
Hendrick’s displays in France were characterised by his strong running from deep with and without the ball while interlinking intelligently with those around him to get the opposition back peddling. His powerful, direct running – coupled with his physicality – makes defenders panic. On Monday though, apart from set pieces, the Watford defenders looked decidedly calm.
This isn’t to say that Hendrick had a bad game, in fact he had a very good game. Perhaps only the outstanding Defour outshone the Irishman on the night. He tracked back diligently, closed down angles, got into scoring positions where possible and worked tirelessly for the cause. Manager Sean Dyche couldn’t have asked for more, but if this is the position he has earmarked for Hendrick in the long term, can the Dubliner fully realise the potential he showed during the summer?
He has the knack of finding space in the box so he will score goals as a number ten, but he may find it difficult to have the same kind of influence on the game that he can have from a deeper position. Defour was excellent in a more withdrawn midfield role, so Dyche may feel he can afford to play Hendrick higher up where he won’t see as much of the ball but can cause damage when he does. The Burnley manager will also be aware that he’ll never be left wanting for effort from Hendrick.
The Premier League is a long gruelling campaign, particularly for newly promoted teams, and Hendrick will get plenty of game time in more than one position. If he is to develop into the influential midfielder he’s hinted he can be, you would think he has to play in a more central role where the whole game is in front of him.
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena