By Hayden Boyle – @hayden_boyle
“We will wait for him like a good wife when a man is in prison.” – Jurgen Klopp on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury after the game against Roma in the Champions League semi-final.
It was a Klopp classic, at his quirky best, yet it also proved how crucial the England midfielder has become in this rampaging Liverpool team.
Before the injury, Chamberlain had impressed enough to be considered Liverpool’s most important midfielder. Man of the match performances came against Manchester City twice, one each in the league and Europe.
Goals came in both games too; including a powerful effort from 20 yards that put a major hole in City’s European ambitions during the first leg of the quarter-final at Anfield.
The Ox was the only midfielder to start all three games against City in the 2017-18 season, his rampaging runs through the middle of the park continually caught the Citizens defence napping.
An ideal Klopp player, his non-stop pressing throughout 90 minutes accompanied by a shot that reminds one of Gerrard at his best, it wasn’t hard to see why the German had spent £40 million on the 25-year-old.
When news filtered out at the start of this season that Chamberlain would be “focusing on recovery and rehab” for the majority of the campaign, there was a deep sense of disappointment amongst the Anfield faithful.
He has become so integral to the stereotypical Liverpool style under Klopp. Ox offers the team qualities the other midfielders simply don’t. Some of my favourite goals to replay from last year were the two screamers from Oxlade-Chamberlain against City, and they were just so very ‘Klopp’.
There was a stark contrast though when Liverpool faced up against Pep Guardiola’s side again this season and worryingly failed to stick a single shot on target. Only earlier this year Liverpool had produced the rampaging, heavy metal football against Man City that we have come to expect.
Is it greed to expect another performance like that? Perhaps, but an Ox-less midfield at the moment it seems is a fairly pedestrian one. It could be argued that our front three are suffering as a result too, less movement and linking from those behind them has hindered the ability of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
Naby Keita was bought in to play a similar role, the dominant ball carrying No.8 from Leipzig has not yet lit up the league as he did in the Bundesliga. No doubt the quality is there, he has a lovely touch and the dribbling prowess is clear to see, but the breaking of the lines, a la Ox’s bread and butter, is yet to surface for the Guinean.
It will come, and we should have faith, Keita is a 23-year-old adjusting to a new culture and a new league. His performance against West Ham at the very start of the season was evidence that the boy can play.
In recent games we have also seen Xherdan Shaqiri do a job as a No.8 and his performances have been very impressive – he has the quality required to play in there and against a ‘low block’ he can very effective, yet there remains questions about his defensive positioning.
So while we wait patiently for Oxlade-Chamberlain to return, Klopp must find another solution and bring back the drive and line-breaking of last season and once again turn up the volume on the heavy metal we are all so addicted too.