Back in December, I wrote a piece on whether Paul Pogba would get into Liverpool’s midfield. I concluded that there was very little chance at that point of that happening. While Pogba was clearly more creative than any of Liverpool’s midfielders, I praised the likes of Jordan Henderson and James Milner for their overall defensive work and better ball retention.
However, football is a funny old business and it turns out that, in March, even posing the Pogba question would be foolish as there would only ever be one answer: YES!
The harsh reality for Liverpool right now is that the midfield has become an issue. Injuries and, seemingly, fatigue have caused the intensity of the likes of Milner and Henderson to drop.
Worse still, Liverpool are beginning to fire blanks in games with much of the blame being placed on the shoulders of that fearsome front three. While this is a fair criticism, much of the blame can also be attributed to the midfield.
Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum have their moments of quality but are very workmanlike in their approach and play. Fabinho can spot a pass but is lacking that absolutely killer final ball. Naby Keita’s acclimatisation period is still ongoing. Adam Lallana is a decent player but not someone you’d expect to unlock a defence.
Liverpool’s midfield has been pedestrian, playing in front of teams rather than probing and pressing them. The passes are safe and sideways. That usual bite is missing. There is a lack of energy.
And that is why the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is so exciting for Liverpool.
At the time of his arrival from Arsenal, I was very confused as to where Ox would fit in at Liverpool. We’d just bought Mo Salah on the right and, unless he was a replacement for Nathaniel Clyne at right back, it just did not compute with me.
Yet, Jurgen Klopp seemed to have some kind of plan.
He saw that Oxlade-Chamberlain offered something that no other Liverpool midfielder could – attacking thrust.
As previously mentioned, Liverpool’s midfielders are rather workmanlike. They can run and work and are good footballers but when teams are sitting back or sitting deep, the likes of Wijnaldum are not often found making that late run into the area or driving at defenders.
That kind of player is one of the few things Liverpool have been lacking this season and that is all to do with the serious knee injury Ox suffered against Roma in the Champions League last season.
That injury destroyed his hopes of going to the World Cup and has meant that he has not kicked a ball in a competitive setting since April. Nearly a year on though and Klopp has confirmed that Chamberlain will play in today’s U23 game against Derby County.
So could his return prove to be pivotal for Liverpool in their hunt for the title?
Simply put, yes.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s impetus got him two belting goals against Manchester City last season. For both, he picked up the ball and drove forward without thinking before smashing home from range. Each time, City’s defence was forced to take a step backwards rather than get any sort of chance to stand their ground. They were forced to retreat, given something different to think about.
That kind of positivity and drive can not only win you points and matches but it can also lift the spirits of the fans. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performances, and those goals against City, ensured that Liverpool fans took to him and his return in the Derby game has given fans a real buzz after a disappointing result against Everton.
Will Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain single-handedly win Liverpool a trophy this season? Probably not. But his presence and his style of play are like a breath of fresh air to a Liverpool side that is getting a little stale.