Oxlade-Chamberlain faces vital period in his Liverpool career
One of the most cruel moments of the Jurgen Klopp era at Liverpool was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cruciate knee ligament injury.
On that sad night during the business end of the 2017/18 season, the former Arsenal man was an undoubted key starter in a Reds side on the cusp of reaching the Champions League final.
Having initially taken time to find his feet at his new club, following a big-money move the previous summer, Oxlade-Chamberlain found himself excelling in a central midfield role.
With Philippe Coutinho departing a few months earlier, and the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Emre Can and James Milner providing the industry, the likeable Englishman brought a sprinkling of guile in the middle of the park.
Capable of breaking the lines with clever passes, and more often than not bursts of pace coupled with powerful runs, his goals against Man City were highlights of that campaign and he was a consistently strong performer after the turn of the year.
Sadly, as Liverpool took on Roma in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield, a turning point in Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career was about to take place.
His aforementioned knee injury seemed relatively innocuous at the time, but his night swiftly ended in him leaving the pitch distraught, long before the Reds started to run riot against the Serie A giants.
In truth, when Oxlade-Chamberlain eventually hangs up his boots in years to come, that period will be seen as the absolute peak of the midfielder’s powers, before the fitness woes kicked in.
There was a year and two days between the Roma match and the England international’s return to first-team football, with his long-awaited comeback taking place in a 5-0 home thrashing of Huddersfield Town at the end of the 2018/19 campaign.
During his long absence from the team, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri had all been added to Liverpool’s squad and it was clear that he was no longer as indispensable as he once was.
Last season, as Liverpool finally got their hands on a Premier League title, Oxlade-Chamberlain was a peripheral figure in comparison to many others, as injuries again held him back a frustrating number of times.
The 27-year-old was limited to only 17 league starts out of a possible 38, and rather than be guaranteed minutes in his preferred midfield role, Klopp often opted to use him out wide, invariably ineffectively.
He still played his part, it must be stressed, with eight goals and two assists in all competitions, but it was impossible to deny that he was nothing more than a supporting actor who got lost among a stellar cast.
This squad role has continued into this season, with a pre-season knee problem immediately curtailing Oxlade-Chamberlain’s progress and his first appearance not arriving until the 7-0 win at Crystal Palace shortly before Christmas.
On Monday night, he was introduced as a late substitute in the narrow victory away to Wolves, impressing in a rare ‘false nine’ berth and arguably producing his most noticeable cameo of 2020/21 so far.
It was a timely reminder of what Oxlade-Chamberlain can still offer, but with the summer not too far away, these next couple of months could prove key in terms of him staying at Liverpool or being moved on.
His contract doesn’t expire until 2023, so there is no rush to sell him for fear of losing him on a free transfer, but equally, if another club matches the £35milllion the Reds paid Arsenal for his services in 2017, Klopp’s head could be turned.
Oxlade-Chamberlain will be 28 in August, he is injury-prone and his performances have too often been inconsistent since his heartbreak against Roma, so there are reasons to entertain his sale.
If he can stay fit and prove himself as a reliable figure between now and the end of the season, it should be enough for him to be trusted in 2021/22, but further absences and more forgettable showings could do the opposite.
Ideally, Oxlade-Chamberlain will prove his worth and remain at Anfield for at least another year – his Wolves display was certainly a positive sign.