By Cash Boyle – @cashboyle
Jürgen Klopp is expected to revert to his ‘big-game’ midfield for Saturday’s game against Arsenal, where the only Premier League teams left with a 100% record will do battle at Anfield.
This expectation is despite the positive performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Southampton last weekend. Liverpool’s new No.15 was evidently more comfortable following a disjointed showing in the UEFA Super Cup final, where Liverpool’s upturn coincided with his withdrawal at half-time.
In spite of this inauspicious outing, critics were kind to the Englishman, acknowledging that the game signalled another crucial step towards his full recovery. Klopp took responsibility for deploying him out of position as part of a front three, accepting that this contributed to his nominal impact on the night.
But in a move typical of Klopp’s man-management skills, Oxlade-Chamberlain was given an immediate chance at redemption. Both player and fans would have been elated to see the England international start two games in quick succession, particularly as the latter saw him start in his preferred position.
When the former Gunner signed for Liverpool, Klopp lauded the player as an ‘exciting’ talent who was ‘willing to take risks’. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ability is such that the club dipped into the transfer market on deadline day, something incongruous with the German’s transfer strategy. This move was demonstrative of the boss’ belief in the player, which remains steadfast and patient as he recovers from injury.
Shoots of that recovery were evident at St. Mary’s, where Liverpool ran out as somewhat fortuitous 2-1 winners. Oxlade-Chamberlain displayed the thrust which makes him such a dynamic midfielder. One marauding run saw him release Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose cross just eluded a teammate.
His next telling contribution was to send in an inviting cross from a Mohamed Salah pass down the channel, which was dealt with by the Southampton rearguard. Oxlade-Chamberlain did his own share of defending, notably snuffing out a dangerous Nathan Redmond surge forward.
In a midfield that can be criticised for lacking consistent creativity, the England international demonstrated an exciting passing range. One such pass found a speeding Salah, who blazed over the bar.
Despite the profligacy, encouragement can be found in the fact that the Egyptian was found with consummate ease. Such passes can eliminate an entire defensive unit, and are ideal for a front three who possess lightning pace.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s second half performance was a collection of deft touches, simple passes and occasional bursts forward to assist the attack. He left the pitch in the 89th minute with the highest pass success percentage (89.5%) of any Liverpool player. Considering his remit goes beyond the recycling of possession, this is impressive.
That performance will have helped him immeasurably, who said himself post-match that he was delighted ‘to be able to contribute’ again. The midfielder always articulates himself eloquently, with clear sincerity behind his yearning sentiments.
‘The Ox’ has missed contributing to this team, who will benefit from a player unleashed after an injury hell. The seriousness of his injury dictates that any unleashing be tentatively done but, based on Saturday’s evidence, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is well on his way.