Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has started the season mainly on the wing – but that must be a temporary role.
The 26-year-old has featured in all but one game this season – Norwich City at home – but only once in a midfield position.
That came against his old club, Southampton, where he lined up alongside Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner. But despite all of his other appearances being on the left-wing, the middle remains his future.
It’s where we’ve seen the best of him since his £35m move from Arsenal. His pre-injury form was fantastic, making him a key member of the team and it came from the middle. Oxlade-Chamberlain offers drive and dribbling in that role that no other options really do. Potentially Naby Keita, you’d say, but we haven’t really seen it yet.
You can’t blame Jurgen Klopp for making use of the player’s versatility, of course. His ability to play from the wing means Klopp can rest Sadio Mane, a player who had a short pre-season.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain has never really performed for Liverpool on either wing. He doesn’t look anywhere near as comfortable as Mane or Mo Salah and there may be a key reason for that.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is more of a classic winger. You’re far more likely to see him beat his man on the outside and get a cross in, rather than offer a goal threat (his highest-scoring season being six goals would back this up). It’s not clear that he works from the wing in Liverpool’s system.
But he certainly does work in the middle of midfield. There’s less pressure to score and more freedom than he seems to feel when ‘stuck’ out on the wing.
He’s brilliant cover, of course, as he can play various positions and it’s important to remember that he’s still working his way back from injury. A pure squad role may be the best way to ease him in, in that case.
But as far as the long-term future is concerned, we’ll almost certainly see the best of Oxlade-Chamberlain when he’s consistently in the middle.