There’s no time like the present for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Having featured in just 19 minutes of last season due to a serious injury, the Liverpool midfielder is now making up for lost time.
Damage to the cruciate and medial ligaments in the knee and hamstring tendons aren’t injuries you can just shake off and it has understandably taken Oxlade-Chamberlain a while to contribute again for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
But if the start of the 2019-20 season was defined by slow progress and frustration, the last few weeks have been very different. The 26-year-old’s rejuvenation has not been subtle, with eye-catching goals marking his full reintroduction to Liverpool’s first-team plans.
Inventive and outrageous
If the first – an accurate shot rifled the bottom corner in the second minute in the Champions League against Genk – could merely be categorised as decent, the next two were genuine goal of the season contenders which acted as emphatic reminders of his talents.
Genk were also on the receiving end of the first, an inventive, outrageous outside-of-the-boot flick from the edge of the area which struck the underside of the bar and bounced down to put Liverpool 2-0 up.
Next came a screaming 25-yard half-volley in the midst of the 10-goal mayhem of the Carabao Cup tie against Arsenal last week.
Liverpool scored five goals from outside the box in the whole of the 2018-19 season. Within a week of hitting his straps, Oxlade-Chamberlain alone has smashed in three – more than any other Premier League player has managed in all competitions this campaign.
The fact Oxlade-Chamberlain was summoned from the bench with Liverpool 1-0 down to Aston Villa in the 65th minute on Saturday shows the confidence Klopp has in him. But the German’s assessment of his form ahead of the match indicated he needs to offer a more rounded game.
“A lot of outstanding moments, but other moments he is not involved,” Klopp said last week.
“He still needs rhythm but that is no problem – he is a long-term project.”
Yet, with another Champions League tie against Genk tomorrow before the potentially season-defining Premier League clash with title rivals Manchester City on Sunday, he is a very useful option for Klopp to have right now.
Liverpool’s first-choice midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho and back-up choice James Milner are disciplined and solid, but they don’t possess the same box-to-box drive and goal threat of Oxlade-Chamberlain.
One of the reasons a lot of the Reds’ play stems from full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, and this season has seen the number of crosses increase, is the conversative nature of the midfield.
With Adam Lallana and Naby Keita also back fully fit following injuries, Liverpool’s squad depth is showing itself.
Klopp will likely have one eye on the meeting with City when selecting his XI for this evening, giving some back-up options a chance to impress.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has another factor besides his recent goals to influence Klopp’s selection on Sunday: he has scored twice and won all three of the encounters he started for Liverpool against City.
Lay waste to Genk again tomorrow and that factor might start to become even more persuasive.
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