Oxlade-Chamberlain vs. Palace: To Start or Not to Start?

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What did you learn from the international break? Very little, right?

The absence of domestic football left a gaping void, forcing us to actually do other things with our lives and perhaps even contemplate watching England play.

If there’s one thing that the last week or so has taught us, it’s that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains a formidable footballer and a gem of a character.

The 26-year-old scored and assisted for England, against Montenegro and Kosovo respectively, further suggesting he will play a pivotal role for the Three Lions at Euro 2020 next summer.

Sandwiched in between a couple of eye-catching performances was a brief-but-touching interview with ITV, in which his likeable personality shone through.

His vibrant, positive character was on show, but also a more emotional side not always seen, as he reflected on the injuries that have dogged him over the years.

Watching Oxlade-Chamberlain open up about his career made for intriguing viewing, and the pair of displays that came either side of it showed a player who has lost nothing in his game.

The midfielder has now been involved in six goals in his last seven matches for Liverpool and England – five goals, one assist – heaping pressure on Jurgen Klopp to start him regularly for the Reds.

In that time, we have seen an outrageous outside-of-the-foot finish away to Genk and a blistering Kop end strike against Arsenal in the League Cup.

Those 2017/18 bursts through the middle of the park have been on show, outlining Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Steven Gerrard-esque ability to break the lines, and he has enjoyed more attacking input than any of Liverpool’s other midfielders.

On the face of it, the former Arsenal man should be a shoo-in to start for the Reds this weekend, as they make the trip to their bogey-team-that-aren’t-actually-a-bogey-team: Crystal Palace.

We all know how the game is likely going to pan out on Saturday afternoon, with Roy Hodgson doing his best to frustrate his former club, sitting deep and looking to spring Liverpool on the counter-attack.

The Selhurst Park crowd is sure to be in boisterous spirits, no doubt reminding the travelling Reds all about that dismal night in south London back in May 2014.

It has the feel of the recent trips to Sheffield United and Aston Villa about it, meaning Klopp’s men will have to dig deep in order to pick up all three points.

Against a stubborn rearguard, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s guile and dynamism would have the ability to create problems, yet there is every chance he won’t start, and Klopp would be correct in that decision.

In Liverpool’s last outing – that memorable 3-1 win over Man City, in case you had somehow forgotten – the midfield put in a colossal showing, earning plaudits across the board.

The much-maligned unit of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum bossed matters against one of the great English teams of this and any generation, more than justifying Klopp’s decision to play them.

It was another reminder of how unfairly criticised they are as a collective – Fabinho would never receive individual flak and rightly so – and why Klopp is to be trusted.

The nature of the City game was admittedly tailor-made for Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum to thrive, but it makes little sense to alter the midfield personnel this weekend.

Henderson was going through a wretched run of form and his place was very much in jeopardy, but he has bounced back with crucial attacking contributions against both Tottenham and City.

He warrants a start, whereas he didn’t a month ago, and having earned a much-needed rest during the international break, the captain should be fresh and raring to go.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, in comparison, has two international matches in his legs and may not be ready for another start.

There is also a lingering feeling that, for all of his goalscoring heroics in recent weeks, Oxlade-Chamberlain is not as reliable tactically and defensively since his return.

He is still finding his feet after such a long layoff and there were clear signs against both Genk and Arsenal that he played his part in allowing the midfield to look fragile when attacked.

On an awkward afternoon under the lights of Selhurst Park, when the crowd will be looking to spoil Liverpool’s party and Palace will adopt a physical approach, Oxlade-Chamberlain could become a weak-link.

His ball retention has been a little on the iffy side of late and his inclusion would feel like a needless risk, as is the case with Naby Keita currently.

Both have major roles to play as the season progress, but at the moment, the ‘grown-up’ midfield is the way to go, at a time when Liverpool must be ruthless in their Premier League title quest.

This is all conjecture of course, and we won’t know what decision Klopp goes with and whether it was the right one until late on Saturday afternoon.

It would be a big surprise if he broke up the City-conquering trio of Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum, however, despite Oxlade-Chamberlain’s purple patch.

There will come a time when he is starting Premier League matches regularly again, but that time hasn’t quite arrived yet.

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