After nearly 11 agonising months out with a serious knee injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finally kicked a ball in a Liverpool shirt. Although not the sort of comeback Reds faithful would have envisaged, the midfielder arrives at the perfect time.
Back in April, Oxlade-Chamberlain received a devastating knock during the first leg of Liverpool’s tumultuous Champions League semi-final clash with Roma. Right up until that moment, he was the power source that sparked the Reds towards another historic European triumph.
The 25-year-old’s injury was a bitter end to an extremely promising campaign. The revitalised Oxlade-Chamberlain was an indispensable member in Jurgen Klopp’s tinkering side. He was already being touted as a potential starter for England in the World Cup in Russia that summer.
At first, it was predicted that the Englishman would return midway into the 2018/19 season. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s rehabilitation was tortuously slow, dragging on to last week. When news spread that the ex-Arsenal was set to make his bow with Under23’s, Reds fans were left in awe.
Chamberlain was greatly missed. Although Liverpool are near-perfect, losing just once as they continue to wrestle the Premier League with Manchester City. However, the 25-year-old’s extra energy, combustive runs and creative instinct were absent. Nabil Keita, tipped to replace him, fell short.
The ex-Arsenal man was finally unleashed in the Premier League 2 clash at Derby on Friday. He featured for almost 42 minutes, slotting in a midfield three alongside Adam Lewis and Connor Randall. Oxlade-Chamberlain kept things simple for the most part.
While fitness still eluding him, the quality he could potentially bring sprung forth. He was involved heavily, linking with teenage right-back Ki-Jana Hoever to good effect. His passing radar looked as exquisite, illustrated in his crossfield passes to Ben Woodburn and then Hoever.
“Ox is a very smart boy and it is clear that he needs some sessions to prepare himself for a game and he wanted these games as well,” said Klopp.
“These games we will see for sure. It looks very positive but it was a long time he was out so we need to be sensible but we think the right time is now.”
There was injury scare after Oxlade-Chamberlain’s abrupt withdrawal. Klopp, though, eased those fears as he claimed it was only “precautionary”. What this means is that the Englishman would play a crucial role in the Reds final push for the Premier and Champions Leagues.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is mature, effective and has already shown what he can do when his ability is combined with savvy coaching and sheer graft. The Southampton academy graduate is adept at picking the ball up and driving forward at pace, swiftly turning defence to attack. He could ultimately be the difference come May.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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