It has now been six and a half months since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return to action was the cherry on top of the icing for Liverpool on a Friday night when they cruised to a 5-0 home win over Huddersfield in the thick of the ultimately unsuccessful chase for a first Premier League title.
The ex-Arsenal man’s introduction was among the more memorable substitutions made by Jurgen Klopp last season, for it marked the midfielder’s first appearance in 366 days following the serious knee injury he incurred against Roma in the 2018 Champions League semi-finals.
The length of convalescence, as well as the late-season timing of his comeback, meant that Oxlade-Chamberlain would not be rushed back into regular action. He made only one further substitute appearance at the tail end of 2018/19 and has started just two Premier League games this term.
However, as we will see below, the England international is beginning to make a big impact at Anfield and rediscover the kind of form he showed in his first season at the club two years ago.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – back among the goals
Oxlade-Chamberlain struck five goals in 2017/18 for Liverpool, the first three coming in comprehensive wins over Maribor, West Ham and Swansea in the final few weeks of 2017. [via TransferMarkt]
Into the second half of the campaign, he fried some much bigger fish when hitting Manchester City not once but twice, opening the scoring in the 4-3 Premier League thriller in January 2018 and scoring a superb long-range strike in the 3-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s men in the Champions League quarter-finals.
He appeared set for inclusion in England’s 2018 World Cup squad before that horrible injury against Roma in the closing weeks of the season, such was his form at Liverpool.
Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t score in any of his first eight appearances this season, but the dam has burst since the international break. He hit a double against Genk in the 4-1 Champions League win in Belgium and then netted against former club Arsenal in the recent Carabao Cup barnstormer. [via TransferMarkt]
That fine form continued with another strike against Genk in midweek, one which ultimately won a tense game for the Reds and took his tally to four goals in his last four appearances. Having gone 18 months without a goal prior to the last few days of October, he is now only one away from doubling his tally at Anfield in his first two seasons as a Liverpool player.
Liverpool’s improving potency from midfield
It seems remarkable to think that, in a season in which they won the Champions League and claimed 97 points of a possible 114 in the Premier League, Liverpool’s midfielders contributed just 17 goals in 2018/19. That figure includes five successful penalties from James Milner, without which the midfield registered a paltry 12 goals all season.
However, the Reds’ midfield men are on course to improve on that this term, with 11 goals coming from that sector of the pitch. Since the October international break, it hasn’t just been Oxlade-Chamberlain on the goal trail, either – Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum have all found the net in the last month and, in each case, those goals ultimately proved significant in terms of either salvaging draws or contributing to one-goal wins.
This new-found effectiveness from Liverpool’s midfielders has been well-timed, too, given the drought that Roberto Firmino is experiencing. The Brazilian has only scored three goals in 17 appearances and 1,339 minutes of football so far this season, the last of those coming against Chelsea in September. He hasn’t found the net in seven subsequent starts, although the contribution of four assists in that time shows that he remains an important presence in Liverpool’s line-up.
Can Oxlade-Chamberlain fill the Coutinho void for Liverpool?
Prior to his £142m sale to Barcelona in January 2018, Philippe Coutinho had scored 12 goals in 20 appearances for Liverpool that season, only one of which was a penalty. The Reds appeared far blunter from the midfield area following his departure, which was the likely prompt for their reported interest in prolific midfielders such as James Maddison (12 goals since the start of last season) and Kai Havertz (20 goals in 2018/19) in recent months.
However, with Oxlade-Chamberlain in such fine form, perhaps they already have the solution from within. Whether the ex-Arsenal man is merely enjoying a purple patch or just getting going on a truly magnificent season is difficult to tell, but his recent goalscoring displays suggest that the Reds might not have to spend big bucks on a prolific midfielder so long as the 26-year-old is providing a steady flow of goals from behind the front three.
Oxlade-Chamberlain still has some way to go to match Coutinho’s scoring exploits of 54 goals in 201 games for Liverpool, but his excellent form of late offers real hope that the Reds finally have a reliable goalscoring presence in midfield after a lengthy fallow period.
If he can maintain that throughout the season and surpass his career-best of 10 goals for a single campaign (way back in 2010/11), he may spare Liverpool the need to splash out on an expensive attacking midfielder next year. That would represent quite a turnaround in fortunes from the year-long injury hell that he endured not so long ago.