Jurgen Klopp has taken something of a beating from supporters in recent weeks from Liverpool fans criticising his signing, and resulting use, of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Much of that criticism has been fair. Whether or not you subscribe to the ‘£35M is the new £15M’ club, it’s okay to expect something of a quick return from a player Liverpool put so much money down for in late August.
The sort of return that Nemanja Matic, Ederson and Mohamed Salah – all purchased by their respective clubs for similar fees – have shown compared to Oxlade-Chamberlain is startling, with Klopp’s use of the player leaving some to query whether his Liverpool career is over before it’s started.
Having only made one start so far, in the League Cup, Oxlade-Chamberlain had been struggling to justify any sort of argument for Klopp throwing him into the first team for a big game, despite Liverpool toiling when other players were used.
However, it may be due to Liverpool’s poor form that Chamberlain hasn’t been thrown into the deep end.
Given that his transfer saga was back-page news for much of the summer, it hasn’t been surprising to see the microscope firmly placed over the midfielder so far this season. Every touch, misplaced pass, poor run scrutinised to death as he made short cameo’s, especially by Arsenal fans who are seemingly struggling for something to do in the absence of Champions League football.
It’s not a surprise that a 24-year-old in a new city, across a host of position’s, was struggling to make much of a mark as he played for six minutes, or 13.
Things have changed slightly in recent weeks though. An impressive 20-minute spell against Manchester United showed off the best of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Direct running, pace, strength and a dangerous ball in. He nearly made the difference that day as Mourinho and co frustrated the Reds.
Following that up with a simple yet composed finish against Maribor to score his first Liverpool goal, the wheels were beginning to turn slowly.
It’d be unfair to say that Liverpool have returned to any sort of form given their drubbing at Wembley, but it was a testament to Klopp’s growing faith in his new boy that he turned to him in place of Lovren after half an hour on that day. Oxlade-Chamberlain was one of few Liverpool players that came out of that defeat with any sort of credit.
With Mane, Lallana and Coutinho out for Saturday’s game against Huddersfield, many called for the Ox to be the man that stepped into the front three.
Klopp opted for Sturridge, moving Firmino to the left. His decision was vindicated, Huddersfield tough opposition but a side that Liverpool would have been castigated for not beating, Sturridge and Firmino both netting. Had Oxlade-Chamberlain made his first league start in a ‘simple three-pointer’ that Liverpool didn’t win, he’d have taken a step back.
Now though, is the time to give him a go. Only miracles will stop Liverpool seeing off Maribor on Wednesday evening and after another solid cameo against the Terriers, Oxlade-Chamberlain looks sharp enough and ready to step firmly into the limelight.
A comfortable yet congested set of fixtures await Liverpool over the next two months, and Liverpool have a determined, fresh new signing waiting in the wings.
Klopp may have picked just the right time to play his Oxlade-Chamberlain card.