Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early return from injury could have a massive impact on Liverpool’s position in the Premier League title race.
It’s the news that has been making Reds the world over smile from ear to ear all week, and it’s that Liverpool fan favourite Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to return to first team training within the next month.
After having what was proving to be an inspired first season on Merseyside, Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered an horrendous knee ligament injury against Roma at Anfield in the Champions League Quarter Final, and many feared that he would not play football until next season at the earliest.
However, following successful surgery and many hard hours of graft in rehab, Ox’s recovery is ahead of schedule and he has recently been filmed looking sharp in some ball-work exercises during Liverpool’s warm weather training camp in Dubai.
The news has been greeted with nothing but positivity as the former Arsenal man’s impact has been missed from Liverpool’s squad this season, despite the Reds sitting at the top of the Premier League table.
So if he does indeed return to full training in the coming weeks, he could well be fit and ready to take part in first team action in March as the title race enters the home straight – which would be an incredible boost to Jürgen Klopp, his staff and his squad.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in training and kicking the ball. Boss💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/IR9Gnuhqtb
— Anfield Express (@AnfieldExpress_) January 21, 2019
If we take into account recent injuries (albeit with mostly defenders facing time on the sidelines), Ox’s return certainly helps to ease the workload on the other lads playing in the middle of the park and allows Klopp to keep rotating to keep everyone fresh.
It also gives him more of an attacking option, which would be more than welcome to help Liverpool to continue their impressive form this season.
Being able to bring someone in who is fresh and champing at the bit as Ox certainly will be at this late stage of the season is a luxury that will not be afforded to many more teams, let alone for that player to be someone of Ox’s quality.
His driving forward runs and combative, strong style of play in the midfield were a highlight of Liverpool’s Champions League form last season, and it helped the Reds push for a second consecutive fourth-placed finish domestically.
He started to add goals to his game, too, which would again be a welcome bonus and ease the burden on the likes of Salah, Mané and Firmino and would add an extra threat to the midfield.
There was also a blossoming on-field relationship forming between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, with Ox providing Salah with a number of assists before his season was so cruelly cut short as he was pushing his performances to the next level.
It is a partnership that Reds fans would be keen to see revived as their team continues their push towards a first league title since 1991, and there’s no doubt that Oxlade-Chamberlain can play a key part in that.
More so than anything though, on a tactical level, there have been times when Ox’s direct style of play has really been missing this season in those scrappy 1-0 wins like Huddersfield away earlier in the season.
While the likes of Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum and Fabinho (to an extent, as he is particularly good at this also) are more than capable of helping to keep the midfield solid and organised, they sometimes lack the ability to break the lines of opposition teams like Oxlade-Chamberlain seems capable of doing at the drop of a hat.
He is never afraid to pick up the ball and drive forward with pace and power at his opponents and this causes their defences problems time after time, not just because of Ox’s movement, but also because of the movement it inspires from the front three ahead of him.
It gives him space to either pick a pass out wide, continue driving at the defence or to play a clever final ball in behind to a teammate who would then have a clear chance on goal.
It was hoped Naby Keita would provide the same drive as Ox can, but the Guinean is still finding his feet at Anfield, which is why having Ox back is even more of a good news story.
We should perhaps err on the side of caution, however, as he has been out of action for such a long time. He may well return to the matchday squad fully fit, but we all know there’s a difference between this and being match fit.
So a little time may need to be afforded Oxlade-Chamberlain’s way, but there’s no taking away from the fact that his imminent return is huge, both in terms of personnel and timing.