Why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could become crucial to Liverpool's future
Fans and pundits must have feared for Liverpool ahead of the clash with Manchester City. The Reds had lost Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona and it was also announced that record signing Virgil Van Dijk would miss the clash due to injury.
Despite Man City's bad record at Anfield, they headed into the clash as slight favourites, expected to keep their unbeaten run going. Liverpool tore that script, however, relentlessly attacking the City backline and forcing them into mistakes. There was one man at the heart of Liverpool's excellent performance. An unexpected player.
Former Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was sensational against Pep Guardiola's side, scoring one and creating another. It was his best performance in a Liverpool shirt. The 24-year-old had previously been questioned about his summer move to Merseyside. The England international was insistent that he wanted to play a central role in midfield, instead of the wing-back position Arsene Wenger employed him in at times last season.
At a time when Liverpool were expected to struggle without Coutinho, Chamberlain stood up to the challenge. He proved he can be a permanent fixture in the heart of midfield, as long as he finds some consistency.
During a December visit to a Children’s hospital in Merseyside, some Liverpool players were selected to spread festive cheer to sick patients. Both Coutinho and Chamberlain were among the Reds stars at the hospital. The kids took to all the players but were aloof towards Chamberlain, with a particular child asking who he was. It may have stung the player, who has played in the Premier League for over 6-years.
After taking up a new challenge at Liverpool, Chamberlain is beginning to find his feet. He is repaying Jurgen Klopp, who shelled out £35m to sign the former Southampton wonder-kid. Although Chamberlain can't match Coutinho’s magic and brilliance on the ball, the England international offers something closer to his manager's favoured philosophy. Klopp is the exponent of heavy metal and high-pressing football. Coutinho sometimes slowed his team down, playing the Brazilian way and dictating the game at his own pace.
Chamberlain has always insisted that he was a central midfielder, but Wenger decided to utilise his pace and trickery at Arsenal. Now starting a new chapter at Liverpool, Chamberlain has had to remain patient, as Klopp has taken time to infuse his own methods into him. It has worked to great effect.
Chamberlain is 24, an age that can make or mar his career. At a club such as Liverpool, which has history and tradition tinged on the walls at Anfield, he may have found an ancestral home that could be his dwelling place for the next decade.
To reach his full potential, Chamberlain's performances must be consistent. After scoring in front of the Kop in Liverpool’s biggest game of the season, he's on the right track. The kids at the hospital will know him now.