Football Features

Why Liverpool’s two ‘ace in the hole’ players could see Man City dethroned

By Squawka News

Published: 13:29, 29 March 2019

Manchester City travel to Fulham in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday, before Liverpool face a trickier prospect when they welcome third-placed Tottenham to Anfield.

But with reports of Joe Gomez’s return to first-team training having emerged this week, and positive news on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fitness, this could be just what Liverpool need if they’re to edge City to the title in May.

Gomez, 21, has been sidelined for the last three months after sustaining an ankle injury during Liverpool’s win at Burnley in December. Jurgen Klopp has since been tasked with rekindling the type of defensive solidarity he established when partnering Gomez with £75m signing Virgil van Dijk, and has found some rhythm recently through being able to consistently field Joel Matip alongside the Dutch captain.

Nonetheless, Gomez’s absence from the side and a dip in form defensively appear correlated, with the Reds having conceded 13 goals since the turn of the year. In the 12 matches that Gomez has started in the league this season, Liverpool have kept seven clean sheets and conceded just four goals. Matip has made 17 appearances in the Premier League, keeping six clean sheets. Meanwhile, Dejan Lovren has kept five clean sheets in his nine league appearances.

(Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Furthermore, Gomez far outstrips Matip and Lovren when in full sprint, helping him make 6.1 recoveries per 90 minutes this season, while the England international has won back possession for his team by that same amount per 90 minutes – both the highest of any centre-back at the club in the Premier League.

Gomez is tipped to develop into a world-class player and Liverpool will be a better team with him back in the line-up.

“But listen, this kid for me is on the march to be the best defender in we’ve got in England.” – Rio Ferdinand on Gomez, November 2018

Further up the pitch – and yet to feature this season – is Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose potential return to the side should feel like somewhat of a new signing to Klopp. The England midfielder has been out with a knee ligament injury since last April, but the Liverpool manager told the media in mid-March that he is expected to be “100% fit” after the international break.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dynamic style of play and ability to drive forward deep from midfield could be the key to boosting Liverpool’s so-far unproductive central midfield. Captain Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita have pitched in only two goals between them and just the single assist this season. Despite James Milner being a bit more involved in an attacking sense – claiming four assists – half of his four goals this season have come from the penalty spot.

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In the Premier League last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain provided 0.42 assists per 90 minutes, bettered only by Philippe Coutinho – now at Barcelona – while he also created 2.06 chances per 90 minutes for his teammates. Milner aside – one of Liverpool’s main set piece takers – the closest midfielder to the former Arsenal man, in terms of their chance creation during last campaign, was Wijnaldum, with just 0.8 per 90 minutes.

“If they would have liked to have kept any player it would have been Coutinho. I think he’s that one who can open up the defence, he’s got that cute pass, little bit of disguise on his pass, that guile which I think they miss.”

Tim Sherwood on Liverpool’s lack of midfield creativity.

There’s a lot to admire about Liverpool. Alisson’s ability with the ball at his feet, Van Dijk’s sheer dominance, their front three’s tendency to cut through opponents like a buzz saw. However, one criticism often levelled at Klopp’s side is a lack of creativity in midfield, especially since Coutinho left and Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered his injury.

(Photo credit OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

There isn’t an official date as of yet that Liverpool fans can expect to see Gomez and Oxlade-Chamberlain return, but Klopp and Liverpool will be focusing on ending this weekend top of the Premier League table when they face Spurs. They then visit Southampton on April 5, before hosting Porto in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on April 9.

All the while, the English pair will be edging ever closer to a return that will give Liverpool a squad boost and added impetus at a time when Pep Guardiola’s squad may just start to burn out as they relentlessly chase down the quadruple.