Though they could inexplicably walk away with no silverware this season, Liverpool have enjoyed a stellar campaign, packed full of positives to build on this summer.
However, there has been one notable absentee during 2018/19, who has been forced to watch on from the sidelines after picking up a serious knee injury during Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final clash against Roma last season: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The midfielder recently made his first appearance of the season in a substitute appearance during the Reds’ 5-0 win over Huddersfield at the end of April and, given the recent injuries to both Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, there’s a distinct chance Jurgen Klopp will call on him again before the season is up.
It’s true that it took some time for Oxlade-Chamberlain to get into his stride after joining Liverpool from Arsenal at the start of the 2017/18 season. After all, he went ten games without a goal before he was able to find the back of the net in the Premier League.
But, as he gradually grew accustomed to Klopp’s philosophy, his influence began to grow and Liverpool ultimately reaped the benefits.
He was one of the first names on the team-sheet prior to his unfortunate injury as he acted as an important link between midfield and attack, providing some much needed support for the deadly front three of Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane.
For all their success this season, Liverpool have been lacking when it comes to support for the aforementioned front three. The distinct lack of goals from the middle of the park has increased the pressure on the trio to continue scoring – and that pressure has been detrimental when things aren’t necessarily going to plan.
That’s where Oxlade-Chamberlain shines. His direct, uncompromising approach splits opposition defences apart and, unlike the majority of his midfield teammates, he isn’t afraid to take the ball forward at every possible opportunity.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has admitted that his confident approach in the final third has been the biggest improvement to his game since he joined Liverpool, recently telling The Telegraph: “The emphasis was different there [Arsenal]. More about trying to find a better option.
“That was Arsenal’s way and it had worked for them well. So, when I saw a run and heard a shout my instinct would be to play it.
“The boss [Klopp] hates that. He would say ‘I don’t watch you shooting all week [in training] to try to be Iniesta and thread a pass’. He would scream at me ‘SHOOOOOT!’ It goes in or it misses but in his head it is, ‘So what? Mo and Sadio are running in’.”
A case could be made to suggest that Naby Keita is starting to fulfil that same role in the middle of the park. His recent upturn in form has seen him finally contribute more consistent goals and assists, but there are still reservations over his ability to remain consistently fit for an entire season.
And, as is always the case, there is no harm in having more than one player who is capable of operating in a specific role.
That isn’t to say that Oxlade-Chamberlain is a one-trick pony. On the contrary, one if his biggest strengths is his versatility.
Liverpool have found it incredibly difficult to find adequate replacements for the front three as, despite having reasonable options off the bench, the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi and Keita all struggle to have the same level of influence when they are forced to operate out wide.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s physical attributes – combined with his improved end product – make him a perfect option to step in and make a difference.
Most importantly, age is still on Oxlade-Chamberlain’s side. It remains to be seen how much of an effect the year out has had on his overall game, as well as his fitness levels, but at 25-years-old, he should now be entering the prime of his career.
The old cliche ‘like a new signing’ is often overused in football, but Oxlade-Chamberlain’s prolonged absence, combined with his undeniable talent, will solve a number of minor issues in the Liverpool squad and they won’t have to spend a single penny.