Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain compared to LFC's midfield
Liverpool’s new signing, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, costing a reported 35-40m GBP fee, will arrive and provide some much-needed squad depth and quality. For a midfield, that only three games ago, I, and many other fans criticised for not being proactive or creative enough, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems a step in the right direction for the club in addressing that issue.
However, after two barnstorming midfield efforts – against Hoffenheim and Arsenal – in which Can, Wijnaldum and Henderson all looked imperious, where will Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit in for Liverpool? This is not the only important question, mind, we must also ask what does Oxlade-Chamberlain bring to the starting XI and squad that the team did not have before, in terms of a physical and tangible output, such as goals, assists or key passes, for instance.
What we’ll be looking at here is where Oxlade-Chamberlain will feature for Liverpool and his qualities – and how they may help Liverpool in the season to come.
If you are a regular listener to the Anfield Index Under Pressure podcast, or a regular reader of my work, you may have noticed that the Liverpool squad is underprepared for the season ahead in terms of personnel, with it lacking sufficient numbers to cope with the demands of European football, alongside that of the ever-demanding, Premier League.
During the 2016-17 season, Liverpool struggled with injuries, with Mané’s and Coutinho’s absences significantly affecting the team’s performance: from being in a position to mount a title challenge in December, Liverpool just squeezed into the top four on the final day of the season. When we consider that Liverpool were out of both domestic cups in January and, relative to the rest of the league, suffered an above average number of injuries, but hardly excessively so, it’s very much worth asking how the same Liverpool squad would cope, should key players suffer long-term injuries, or should the number of injuries rise.
This piece by the Financial Times, which I’ve referenced before, details how the intensity of league games in the Premier League is higher than that of those in the other ‘Top Five’ European leagues, and thus English teams need greater squad quality and depth to challenge effectively in the Champions League – one reason as to why English clubs have struggled in recent years.
Furthermore, Simon Brundish, for the AI Under Pressure team, calculated the number of games that Liverpool will likely need to play, and why Liverpool’s squad needs to increase in size to cope with that. In the piece which summarised the podcast’s contents, I wrote:
‘The average number of games played in a season, of a side in the Champions League is 54 games. Which is a minimum of 4860 minutes: an increase of 720 minutes, or 8 games, on 2016/17.
The very maximum number of games played would be 66, which would amount to a staggering 5940 minutes, in which case the Liverpool squad would need to be the size of Real Madrid’s.’
When considering this, and noting that Adam Lallana is sidelined until around November (from which point he will begin his reintegration back into the team with sporadic appearances) alongside any other injuries Liverpool’s midfielders may suffer, signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain makes perfect sense. With Lallana injured, Liverpool’s first and second midfield options were James Milner and Marco Grujic – two solid players, but hardly game changing individuals that would swing a Champions League tie. With Oxlade-Chamberlain though, Liverpool have an offensive outlet that when starting or coming off the bench can contribute and alter the speed and dynamism of Liverpool’s play.
How Oxlade-Chamberlain would affect Liverpool’s play depends upon his position though, and right now, it’s unclear where he may predominantly feature. What we do know is that he will not be starting as a wing-back – the reason to why he wanted to leave Arsenal – and that in negotiations with Liverpool, he made clear his desire to play centrally, whilst Liverpool assured him he would play either as an offensive wide player, or as a central midfielder.
One thing is clear though, he certainly will not be replacing either Salah or Mané as a starting option but may be used in cup competitions, or as a substitute in that position.
Where we will most likely see him is either as a replacement for Can or Wijnaldum in the current midfield setup. It’s actually easier though to imagine Oxlade-Chamberlain taking the place of Lallana in last season’s starting XI, as that would suit his box-to-box, direct running style of play best. However, should Coutinho stay, he would likely assume the ‘Lallana’ role, whilst, should Lemar sign, he would likely replace Wijnaldum in midfield. As you can see, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s position within the midfield is not clear, and very much circumstantial, so perhaps to get a deeper understanding it may be worth looking at some of his figures from last season.
|Player||Goals||Gp90||Assists||Ap90||Shots*||Key Passes*||Dribbles*||Dribble Success Rate|
|Player||Tackles*||Interceptions*||Fouls*||Aerial Duels won*||Aerial Duel Success Rate||Dribbled Past*|
|Player||Avg. Pass*||Success Rate||Through Balls*||Key Passes*||Acc LB*||inAcc LB*||Acc SP*||inAcc SP*||Long Balls*|
When looking at Oxlade-Chamberlain’s numbers for the 2016-17 season, he does not stand out, head and shoulders above any player, and his injury record is worrying, with him only starting 16 games, with a total of 1563 minutes across the league season. However, it’s imperative to note Oxlade-Chamberlain was used in a wing-back role for a large period of the season, which no doubt has changed his statistics from what they would be like should he play in the middle. Bearing this in mind, his figures are strong for a wing-back, in terms of key passes and especially so with regard to assists.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a Liverpool fan when he was a kid. Liverpool see him as long-term replacement for James Milner
— Kaveh Solhekol (@SkyKaveh) August 30, 2017
His best characteristic for Liverpool, and Liverpool’s style of play, is his direct approach. If we cast our minds back to the very first game of the 2016-17 league season, he scored in Liverpool’s 3-4 away victory at the Emirates, picking the ball up around the halfway line and driving directly at Liverpool’s defence.
This is exactly the quality Liverpool have sought out, and need for teams which employ a low-block. Hence, one reason as to why Liverpool have purchased Naby Keïta for next season. With Salah and Mané ahead of him, Oxlade-Chamberlain will be a threat on the counter attack, and when Liverpool’s game becomes stymied and stagnant against teams who prefer to sit back.
Thinking ahead – Liverpool's depth if #Lemar & van Dijk sign. Opted not to include Coutinho as a precaution. #LFC pic.twitter.com/Mcl4wfJKug
— Distance Covered (@DistanceCovered) August 30, 2017
His injury record is concerning, however, should Lemar join, and Coutinho stay, Liverpool will have Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum, Lemar, Coutinho, Lallana, Grujic and Milner in addition to Oxlade-Chamberlain. With serious competition, but more importantly – variety – across the midfield, suited to different styles of play, demands of the match and situations.
As a substitute option for Salah and Mané though, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s role in the squad will be vital. Liverpool appeared toothless when Mané left for the AFCON, and when he was injured last season, and having Oxlade-Chamberlain, who can stretch defences as they do, has similar direct dribbling qualities to Mané, and who will allow them to rest through rotation, Oxlade-Chamberlain may well prove to be an absolutely crucial player in keeping Liverpool’s best XI fit, fresh and able to last the season.
Beyond this, Oxlade-Chamberlain has a number of attributes which make him an astute transfer. He has considerable Champions League experience and will be one of the few players in the squad with that relevant experience. Furthermore, he is renowned for his pressing, and will fit in perfectly, like Lallana, in a midfield role if utilised there, able to press relentlessly and create chances for Liverpool’s front three.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Premier League for Arsenal:
126 chances created
9 goals pic.twitter.com/ldTwqx5Ts4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 30, 2017
Oxlade-Chamberlain is no doubt a promising player, and from what I’ve seen and discussed with Arsenal fans, his best position appears to be in central midfield. He certainly has work to do, to fulfil his potential, but he seems eager to play for Liverpool, and Klopp may well get the best out of him.
If anything, Oxlade-Chamberlain is a talented squad player at worst, and a bright, dynamic starting player at best. Whilst 35m GBP may be expensive, it’s a smart piece of business by Liverpool that strengthens the squad, and weakens one of their rivals.
Considering Arsenal offered to make him one of their top earners, and league champions Chelsea also wanted his services, it’s clear he has something special about him. Liverpool fans can only hope he can deliver on that at Liverpool, and finally push well and beyond his figures, which he achieved at Arsenal.