The signing of Thiago Alcantara was met with unbridled euphoria amongst supporters and rightly so. Liverpool have made arguably their biggest signing of the Premier League era to dish out a significant reminder to the rest of the league as to why Jurgen Klopp’s team are English and world champions.
However, even in the midst of the excitement and anticipation that comes with the calibre of player as serial winner Thiago, there is still a pondering question to be answered: what does this mean for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?
Making a case for Oxlade-Chamberlain
At this point of writing, Liverpool have eight senior midfielders currently on their wage bill – not including Marko Grujic. This vindicates Klopp point of looking for depth in every area possible as it means players such as Fabinho can occupy other positions without the worry of a drop-off in quality.
It is expected that Liverpool’s regularly rotated deep-lying midfielders will be Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago whereas players such as Curtis Jones and Naby Keita could take up more attacking roles if Klopp looks to adopt a 4-2-3-1 system. James Milner is expected to rotate across all four c0mpetitions with a more prominent role in the domestic cups.
This creates an area of doubt for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has just entered the peak years of his career. There have even been suggestions of interest from other PL clubs for the England international after The Mirror credited Wolves with a £25 million interest.
These rumours were met with a swift response from reputable Liverpool journalists such as James Pearce, who were quick to play down reports linking Oxlade-Chamberlain with an Anfield exit by claiming that there is zero chance of Klopp sanctioning a deal for the former Arsenal man to leave.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, 27, is still nursing a knee injury he sustained in pre-season with a return date still not in sight. It’ll likely take quite some time to build up his fitness and regain match sharpness.
Thiago’s signing coupled with the addition of Diogo Jota – and the possibility of switching to 4-2-3-1 system to incorporate the likes of Takumi Minamino, Keita and Jones – restricts Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of featuring in his preferred central role.
Because of this, it is not unreasonable to question Oxlade-Chamberlain’s involvement and the best way Klopp could potentially utilise a player, who on his day, has proved himself as one of Liverpool’s top midfield performers.
Offers unique qualities
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s versatility does make the player more indispensable to Klopp given he can play in up to four alternate positions.
The fixture congestion also plays to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s advantage as Klopp has hinted on numerous occasions that he will look to rotate more often this season which implies there will be opportunities for him to make an impact when called upon.
Oxlade-Chamberlain gives the team something different with unpredictability in Liverpool’s play of the essence to Klopp who with the addition of Thiago now has an array of midfielders who all offer different qualities.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is by far Liverpool’s most direct midfielder who likes to take the game to the opposition. Last season he had more dribbles per 90 (4.07) than all of Liverpool’s midfielders (Keita second on 2.66) which signifies that Oxlade-Chamberlain does offer something unique in comparison to Klopp’s other options.
This was particularly apparent during Liverpool’s clash with Atletico Madrid back in March. Despite defeat, and eventual elimination from the Champions League, it was one of Liverpool’s best performances of the season.
Oxlade-Chamberlain epitimised the team’s tenacity and drive that evening, completing 100% of his dribbles, attempting six shots (more than any player on the pitch other than Salah) as well as contributing two key passes.
In games against opponents such as Manchester City when Liverpool aren’t typically the dominant force in possession, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s burst of pace over 10-15 yards coupled with his long range shooting offers Klopp a cutting edge in midfield that he wouldn’t get from his other preferred possession based midfielders.
His age is an important factor, too. As, come the start of next season, Henderson will be 31, Thiago 30 and Milner 35, while Wijnaldum very-well may have been moved on by the club as a free agent.
Oxlade-Chamberlain still has three years left on his Liverpool contract and there is every belief that if his fitness concerns are put to one side, then Klopp has yet another unique option at his disposal to make the team much more unpredictable going forward.
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