Liverpool’s injury worries seem to be never-ending. Despite earning a hard-fought point against Manchester City away, courtesy of an uncharacteristic Kevin De Bruyne penalty miss, the Reds suffered yet another setback in the form of Trent Alexander Arnold. The young, talented right-back suffered a calf injury around the hour mark and was forced off the pitch giving Jurgen Klopp another unwanted injury headache. Trent will now join Joe Gomez, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Thiago and Virgil Van Dijk on the sideline, as Liverpool embark on a busy festive period jam-packed with matches and travel.
Klopp will definitely keep an eye on his squad and is likely to give a few backup options and fringe players opportunities to feature in games, giving his stars a breather in the process. Liverpool have handled their crisis at Center back extremely well, and young Joe Gomez has stepped up admirably in the absence of “Big Virg”, adding some much-needed solidity to the Reds’ backline. However, Gareth Southgate has recently announced that the Englishman suffered a major injury during England training and Liverpool have released an official statement that he will be out for the remainder of the season. This means that should he remain fit, it is likely that Fabinho will be deployed in the heart of defence, instead of his usual position in midfield.
As a result, we can see the midfield line up in a more defensive manner, with Thiago, Wijnaldum and Henderson constituting the midfield three and Wijnaldum and Thiago forming that double pivot in front of defence to provide extra cover. Curtis Jones has made a promising start to the campaign, picking up from where he left off at the conclusion of last season, and is an able deputy to the midfield three, along with utility man James Milner and Naby Keita, who has just returned from injury.
One man who has been somewhat forgotten over the course of this season is midfielder Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Chamberlain, who was mysteriously ruled out with an injury earlier this season, was expected to make his return within days but recently it was revealed that his injury was in fact a long term one. The pacey Englishman was a part of Klopp’s Premier League title winning squad and has evolved into an influential member in the Liverpool first team setup off the pitch, but his performances on the pitch tell us a different story.
Oxlade Chamberlain, popularly known as the Ox, signed for Liverpool on a five year contract in 2017 for a fee of thirty five million pounds. The talented England international (at the time) made a promising start to life with the Reds, and made 42 appearances across all competitions that season. He scored several key goals for Liverpool, including a long range stunner against Man City in a 4-3 victory at Anfield. What seemed to be a brilliant opening season for the Ox ended in tragedy, as he suffered a severe knee injury against Roma in April, which effectively ruled him out for the World Cup finals as well as the majority of the next season (2018-19).
After a season of recovery and rehab, the Ox made his return to football in the 2019-20 campaign, and enjoyed a decent spell between August and December, in which he delivered a couple of match winning performances and scored a few decisive goals en route to Liverpool’s best start in years. But he was being denied consistent spells of football because of the signing of midfielders like Fabinho and Naby Keita, both of whom arrived at Anfield in 2018 and made their mark as contenders for a spot in the midfield three. The rejuvenation of skipper Jordan Henderson and his evolution into one of the best midfielders at the club, if not the Premier league, further hampered his playing time and he was often limited to substitute appearances and benchtime. The fact that he suffered an ankle injury effectively ruled him out for the majority of December and gave him some time away from the first team – which came back to haunt him.
Then COVID happened and things changed completely. A jam packed schedule post lockdown meant that the gaffer would have to rotate his players to keep them fresh and give his backup options more playing time. Ox was given six periods of forty five minutes and above after the restart but failed to impress, despite being given a shot in his favoured position in the heart of midfield. Naby Keita’s fine form after the restart meant that the Englishman was once again forced to play second fiddle. Ox is yet to feature this season because of a long term injury to his knee.
With the arrival of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich and the birth of a new star in Curtis Jones, one can’t help but wonder whether Ox holds the same importance in this Liverpool side that he held three years back. Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum have made their mark as Liverpool’s favoured midfield three but Thiago is bound to get into that set-up, given his quality and technical prowess. Naby Keita and Curtis Jones are pushing for a starting berth themselves, and hope to break into Klopp’s plans regularly rather than on one-off occasions. James Milner is the ultimate depth option, and Klopp may opt for him when he wants a more defensive set up. It seems as if Chamberlain has been the only player who has stagnated under the Klopp regime, mostly due to his injuries but also because of his inconsistency on the pitch.
The Englishman signed a contract extension last season, one which will keep him at the club till 2024. Earlier this year, during the transfer window, there was some speculation linking him to Wolves. Hopefully, he recovers from injury soon and enjoys a fantastic season with the Reds because time is running out for him. If his poor form and injuries continue, Liverpool may be forced to cash in on him to improve their squad elsewhere (like center back – which seems like the biggest priority at the moment).He needs to make his mark on the pitch soon, and break through in a midfield featuring some world class players. If he fails to make the step up, it may be curtains for the talented Oxlade-Chamberlain at Liverpool.