Liverpool may have exited the Champions League in the most agonising of manors but there were certainly positives to be drawn upon on another memorable evening under the Anfield lights.
While the narrative will point to a Diego Simeone masterclass following a rare victory at the home of the current European Cup holders it was certainly anything but. Liverpool relentlessly pulverised Atletico Madrid from start-to-finish with the two-legs ultimatley a tale of two world-class goalkeepers.
Atletico had theirs. Liverpool didn’t.
However, in the season of all seasons for Jurgen Klopp’s record-breaking Reds, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The chief performer amongst the plethora of the German manager’s battle-hardened warriors was indeed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
This was a European performance from the ages and one that drew comparisons to two season’s ago. The England international was integral to Liverpool opening holes in an Atletico team that had it not been for their impenetrable shot-stopper Jan Oblak, it could have honestly been a cricket score.
Often criticised for drifting in and out of games and not contributing enough in general possession as well as goal output, Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared a man possessed. He typified everything that was brilliant about Liverpool and consistently was on the front foot taking the game to his Spanish opponents.
What a managerial decision from Klopp to utilise a player many (including myself) chose to overlook when considering Liverpool’s best possible XI for their European date with destiny.
Oxlade-Chamberlain showcased not only his blistering pace but also the end product to his game that had been frustratingly missing of late. It was the former Arsenal man’s right-footed cross that found the head of Georginio Wijnaldum that landed the first critical blow on Simeone’s defensive lieutenants.
Later on in the match, Oxlade-Chamberlain thundered a low-rasping effort that looked too hot to handle for Oblak but the Slovenian did excellently to parry the raucous shot away from danger.
Liverpool lacked threat and aggression in the first-leg and the Englishman’s introduction to the Anfield bout proved a stroke of genius from Klopp.
The only logical explanation to the manager’s decision to withdraw Oxlade-Chamberlain for James Milner just after the hour mark would have been that the former Southampton prodigy had run himself into the ground.
With Fabinho merely a spectator for most of game from the bench with the Brazilian the key-figure to have been cut from the first team following a number of uninspiring perfroamnces, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s latest rendition will not have done him any favours regarding his prospects of returning to the senior XI.
Despite the defeat, it was certainly Liverpool’s best performance since the Reds dismantled Leicester City on Boxing Day and it is worth appreciating how close Klopp and his team were from adding last night’s affair to the long list of magical nights that has unfolded at the home of the Premier League champions-elect.