We all want Oxlade-Chamberlain back – but we can’t expect him to walk straight into the starting XI

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By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem

Liverpool fans will probably be feeling that injuries have cost their team more than they have any other team in recent years.

While that may not necessarily be the case, the Reds have certainly had their fair share of injuries to key players. With Jurgen Klopp’s high-energy brand of football, injuries were always a risk.

Statistics from PhysioRoom.com place Liverpool behind only Sunderland and West Ham in terms of the number of injuries (81 in total) during Klopp’s first full season in charge of the club. Fans have often been forced to associate their team’s chances of success with key players staying fit.

With more squad options and a more controlled approach this season, things are looking brighter for Liverpool as they head into a crucial period with an almost complete squad. Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez are the only senior players not to be involved in team training ahead of the Manchester United game on Sunday.

However, Liverpool fans are still eagerly waiting to see midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in action after his early return to training and building up his match fitness. The Ox has been a favourite among fans since his impressive performances in the latter stages of last season before his injury during the Champions League semi-final first leg against Roma.

What shouldn’t be overlooked, though, is that Liverpool have more options in midfield at this moment than they had a year ago. Is it still reasonable to expect the former Arsenal man to have a serious impact on the team upon his return? The answer is probably no.

Chamberlain has been sidelined for almost a year now, and building his fitness won’t be the last step. He will still need to get his rhythm up to the team’s standard.

Even then, the 25-year-old should expect to have serious competition from Liverpool’s midfield players. Naby Keita is arguably the man whose role is most comparable to Chamberlain’s, and his recent performances suggest the Guinean will give Chamberlain a run for his money.

Georginio Wijnaldum has also raised his game remarkably and should be a regular starter according to many. Fabinho also looks undroppable while captain Jordan Henderson’s influence on the team was apparent upon his return against Bayern Munich.

What all of this means is, while Chamberlain’s much anticipated return is definitely welcome, we should maintain realistic hopes and expectations from him in terms of his involvement and impact this season. Liverpool’s midfield has started to take a very beautiful shape recently, and Chamberlain will surely add to that next season.

We need only stay patient.

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