Football Features

Can Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be Liverpool’s ‘difference-maker’?

By Harry Edwards

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Can midfielder be Liverpool's difference maker?

Published: 14:44, 14 December 2020

Liverpool have had rotten luck with injuries this season, but they appear to have finally received some positive news, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain set to return ahead of a busy festive period.

The 27-year-old central midfielder has been out of action since suffering a knee injury in pre-season, in what was the latest in a long list of set-backs for the Englishman.

But, he has since returned to training after four months on the sidelines, which comes at a perfect time for Jurgen Klopp, with the Reds’ current squad list looking rather thin in terms of fit players.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

  • Age: 27
  • Club: Liverpool
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Football Index value: £0.49 (Sell)  £0.61 (Buy)
  • Premier League stats at Liverpool: | Games played: 64 | Goals scored: 7 (0.21 per 90 minutes) | Chances created: 52 (1.56 per 90) | Assists: 8 (0.24 per 90) | Passes: 1,427 (42.88 per 90) | Dribbles completed: 70 (2.1 per 90)

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When Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Liverpool from Arsenal in 2017, he did so as a player frustrated with his use at the Emirates. In his final season for Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain had been pushed out of his favoured position to occasionally play at right-back or even as a wing-back at times to fill a gap, and there were no signs of that changing for the new campaign.

His move to Liverpool initially brought some criticism from Arsenal fans who believed he was not good enough to get into their central midfield, let alone a Reds’ one that had improved over the summer. And they revelled in the fact that he did not immediately play in central midfield, again being stuck on the right or even on the subs bench.

However, as the season progressed the England international started to find a more prominent role in Klopp’s first team. In his first season with Liverpool, he played 758 minutes as a central midfielder in the Premier League, more than any other position, taking the opportunities he was given with both hands.

Oxlade-Chamberlain ended the campaign with five goals and seven assists (all competitions), including one of each in Liverpool’s 4-3 league win over Manchester City in January 2018 and a further goal against the same opposition in the Champions League en route to the final.

The 4-3 victory has been hailed as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s best performance in a Liverpool shirt to date, as he provided the perfect transition between defence and attack as the Reds carved through a Man City side who were unbeaten at the time. He had more touches than any other Liverpool player (67), completed five take-ons (bettered only by Leroy Sane for either side) and created three chances (the joint-most on the pitch).

But, once again, his progress was hampered by injury, this time damage to his ACL, and he would miss the final defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League, as well as the World Cup with England.

He played just two games the following season but in 2019/20 he returned once again and wasted very little time in reminding everyone what he was capable of doing. Only this time, he was more of a goalscorer.

In 30 Premier League appearances last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain scored four goals, his best return in the top flight having never previously managed more than two during his time at Arsenal.

Played centrally in Klopp’s three-man midfield, Oxlade-Chamberlain fit nicely on the left side, given the freedom to run forward and join the attackers, knowing he had the likes of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum behind him to remain and protect the defence.

It’s a role he can slot straight back into again this season, with Klopp yet to settle on a midfield trio due to injuries, and the Liverpool boss is looking forward to the impact Oxlade-Chamberlain can have.

“In training, what Ox did so far, you see his quality immediately, immediately,” he said in the build-up to Liverpool’s game with Fulham on Sunday.

“He is a difference-maker, you can see that.

“How long you can do that in a game depends on your fitness level, which depends on the amount of sessions you had before, games you had before and all that stuff.

“Being in the best moment of your career and being compared with that after coming back from an injury, that’s a really dumb thing to do. ‘Oh, he’s not that good anymore…’ – I have no time for that.

“Ox is an outstanding player, an outstanding player. He was always and will always be. Did he play always perfectly well? No. But he had a few really good games and helped us a lot.”

The question is, can Oxlade-Chamberlain be the difference-maker this season?

For all their quality up front, Liverpool haven’t had a suitable runner in midfield, someone capable of bringing the ball out when passing isn’t an option. Thiago has been the best Liverpool midfielder when it comes to dribbling this season, completing 2.67 take-ons per 90 minutes, but the Spaniard has played just two games so far with injury problems of his own.

In recent weeks, Curtis Jones has done a solid job in the midfield trio, being praised for his performances and rightfully so. But again, he does not currently bring the skillset Oxlade-Chamberlain has, to be able to unlock opposition midfields and defences.

It hasn’t been a problem so far, with Liverpool the top scorers in the Premier League, but there will come a time when it does. And while Jones is certainly one for the future, Oxlade-Chamberlain is one who can make an impact now.