Liverpool FC: How the Ox grew from utility man to all-action midfielder

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain falls into that bracket of hyped, young players who never really developed. Chamberlain was painted as the next ‘big thing’ when he left Southampton for Arsenal as a fresh-faced teenager.

His career in north London never really blossomed, despite being a regular in England squads and picking up a few FA Cup winners medals.

His versatility hurt him. Without being a key man, Chamberlain became a utility option for Arsene Wenger. Used to plug holes rather than build around, the once hot prospect had hit a ceiling at the Gunners. He was locked into the role of squad player, with opportunities as a central midfielder severely limited.

We were frequently told he wanted the chance to be a first choice central midfielder more than anything. Last summer was when he decided it was time to try it somewhere else. Still young enough to improve vastly, but with enough experience that other big clubs were keen to take him on.

Chelsea seemed to have serious interest. Reportedly the Blues were turned down by Chamberlain, who clearly had a role in their squad.

Chelsea needed cover at wing-back, where Chamberlain had been playing for Arsenal, and central midfield. The deal never came to fruition, however, and the England international soon joined Liverpool.

With his eyes set on playing in the middle, Liverpool looked a challenge. The club had plenty of midfielders capable of operating in one of the two advanced roles. They do, though, play three in midfield, which Chamberlain might have seen as an opportunity.

The other key factor was Jurgen Klopp. Chelsea are ruthless with players – often discarding talented youngsters too soon – but Klopp has a well-deserved reputation for development.

Less than a year down the line and that decision looks a brilliant one. Not only are Liverpool a better side than Chelsea at the moment, but Chamberlain is a fixture in the midfield trio. For England, too, he is a primary option for Gareth Southgate rather than fringe squad placeholder.

The decision to depart Arsenal was a brave one. It was a rejection of the cosy, if underwhelming, role he played at the Emirates for a leap into the unknown.

His time at Anfield could easily have been a disaster with the competition for places. It took a little bit of fortune for midfield minutes to become available, but Chamberlain has already grown as a player.

After a rocky start for the club, there is a new maturity to his game.

Decision-making is improved, while the pressing system of Klopp seems to lend itself to the way Chamberlain wants to harass his opponents in the middle third. There is still work to be done defensively, but he is not the liability out of possession that we saw on occasion at Arsenal.

Of course, that might just be down to the contrast between Wenger and Klopp.

Offensively, Chamberlain is thriving without the goal scoring burden of playing in a more advanced role. His four goals this season is hardly prolific, yet it’s no great concern given his role this term.

What we have seen for Liverpool and England is how Chamberlain can stretch the pitch. On Tuesday night, for instance, he would regularly explode from midfield making deep runs into the channels. That is so difficult to track, and immediately makes space for his teammates.

Those penetrating runs work well in a team with cover. Having two other midfielders alongside him at Liverpool enable it, while England’s fluidity gives Chamberlain freedom to roam from central midfield.

Challenges are on the horizon for the former Southampton winger.

First, he must earn a starting berth for the Champions League tie with Manchester City. Soon after, it will be the World Cup, and again finding his way into the eleven is the key. Then comes perhaps the greatest task of all; the arrival of Naby Keita.

Chamberlain is still a work in progress. His career is finally heading in the right direction, however.

We could look back on 2016/17 as the season he broke out and became a recognised central midfielder.


Written by Sam Cox

Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_

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