Amidst Liverpool’s remarkable poor run of form and results these past few months, fans have found a myriad of reasons for the steep decline from the reigning Premier League champions.
Of course, injuries are chief among them with seemingly anyone who features at center half for Jurgen Klopp’s side likely to suffer an injury. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane’s goal-scoring decline – coupled with Diogo Jota’s lengthy absence that has just seen him return to training – has meant Mohammed Salah has largely shouldered the scoring burden alone.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s poor season, Thiago’s struggles to adapt after his move from Bayern and Alisson’s recent out-of-character mistakes haven’t helped either; yet there’s one man that has gone under the radar. What has happened to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?
Signed in 2017 from Arsenal for what many thought was an overpay for an inconsistent player whose reputation had been built on potential as much as performance, Oxlade-Chamberlain immediately brought some much-needed dynamism to Liverpool’s industrious midfield in his first season with Liverpool. Multiple screamers against Manchester City highlighted his impact going forward that complimented whichever two of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner he featured in midfield with.
But just as has been the case this season, injury cruelly struck Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Champions League semi-final against Roma in 2018 and he missed the majority of the following campaign. Some may point to that injury as the moment that has continued to derail his Liverpool career. However, his contract extension in August of 2019 and subsequent performances that season say the Anfield hierarchy view it otherwise.
So why is Liverpool’s biggest goal threat from midfield being passed over for an out-of-position Xherdan Shaqiri with the Reds finding themselves 1-0 down in the Merseyside Derby? Even Divock Origi, a striker whose only goal this season came against Lincoln City, coming on ahead of “the Ox” regularly too? Why are a 35-year-old James Milner and 20-year-old Curtis Jones consistently picked ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain?
None of that is to criticise Klopp for those decisions or to denigrate those players. When Oxlade-Chamberlain has played this season, he’s been largely invisible and sluggish on the ball, reflected in his one assist as his lone goal contribution so far in 2020-21. Some will say that Liverpool’s midfield has never been set up to contribute much towards scoring anyways. However, the signings of Naby Keita and more recently Thiago indicate Klopp and his staff may want more end product from their engine room.
And with Mane and Firmino struggling for goals, Takumi Minamino’s loan to Southampton and Jota’s continued absence, one would think there was an opportunity for Oxlade-Chamberlain to move into the front three as he did at times in the 19-20 season.
Fans may remember Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance against Bournemouth in December of 2019 when, playing off the left, his darting run was picked out from Henderson from the halfway line before Oxlade-Chamberlain smoothly finished with one touch. It’s hard to imagine that same player can’t get picked ahead of a striker who can’t score in Origi.
It’s telling that assistant manager Pep Lijnders referred to Jones as Liverpool’s “most offensive midfielder we have.” Jones’ continued emergence this season will surely help ease Liverpool’s midfield goal burden in the future even if he’s yet to find the back of the net this season.
Jones may well end up even turning into the player Oxlade-Chamberlain could’ve been at Liverpool. Yet there’s still time for Oxlade-Chamberlain to turn it around.
But right now, he’s dangerously close to becoming another player remembered for what could’ve been.
Journalism student at Syracuse University and a monthly columnist at Anfield Watch.