Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain return is perfect timing for Liverpool
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play football this season. The Englishman has even been included in Liverpool’s Champions League squad for the knockout stages. This is about the most cheerful news Jurgen Klopp can hear at the moment.
After seven years playing for Arsenal as a forward, and scoring just nine League goals, Oxlade-Chamberlain decided to try a new terrain. He chose Anfield. At first, there were major concerns regarding where and how he would fit into the Liverpool squad.
Chamberlain quickly established himself a first-team regular. As he soldiered on during his debut campaign, anyone could see a superstar emerging from the shadows. His first five Liverpool goals would attest. This from the same player who scored six in his highest scoring campaign at Arsenal. He was on course to enjoy his best, most fruitful season in his professional career.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has had his challenges with injuries, like most players. But what happened to him on 28 April 2018 can correctly be termed the biggest setback of his fledgeling career. On the said date, Chamberlain lined up for his new club in a Champions League. It was also the biggest game of his career.
The euphoria would last just 15 minutes as Chamberlain damaged multiple ligaments in his knee in that game against Roma. Although Liverpool went on to win the game 5-2 and advance to the final, Chamberlain’s season was over. Actually, it was feared he could miss the entire 2018-19 campaign. He’s missed the half of it.
Liverpool is desperate to hold on to their lead at the top of the table with Manchester City relentlessly breathing down their necks. Actually, the Cityzens have successfully overtaken the Reds and now lead based on goal difference. But Liverpool has played a game less.
How did this happen? In December, Liverpool held a nine-point advantage over Man City. Things have fallen apart quickly; in the last six games, the Reds have only managed two wins. That poor form didn’t just impact their title ambition, it saw them get booted out from the FA Cup by Wolves.
The one word that defines Liverpool’s problems is injuries. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury was what necessitated the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke. Klopp did well to bolster his squad in almost every department. In fact, when the campaign began, Liverpool was regarded as the club with the best squad depth in the League.
But injuries have ravaged the Liverpool squad like a desert plague. Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is still MIA following a knee injury on 12 January. Skipper Jordan Henderson suffered a muscle problem before the 1-1 draw at West Ham. Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Joe Gomez (lower leg fracture) remain sidelined. Georginio Wijnaldum’s knee is sore.
Liverpool has no injury crisis in their attack but the bare bones of their team are giving way to this scourge. Klopp has become a desperate man.
Help from the Ox
In December, Oxlade-Chamberlain started running and doing light training. From a video the midfielder posted on Instagram, he can be seen jogging with coaches, dribbling and juggling the ball. Klopp described it as ‘best news’.
“He started going to the pitch and from the first step, he looked completely normal. With the Ox from the first step, it looked like Ox and it was really nice.”
Following the massive improvement he showed in Liverpool’s training facility, Oxlade-Chamberlain has stepped up his recovery process even further. It’s then no surprise why the 25-year-old was included in the Reds Champions League squad.
Coming at a time when Liverpool is understaffed in midfield, they sure need a man who’s versatile and hungry to get going.
However, it wouldn’t make any sense to rush Alex-Oxlade back into action. Jurgen Klopp knows this more than anyone. Whichever way it goes, the Ox should be ready to grind by March.