By Anthony Evans @anthonyevans97
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain now back in full training, Jurgen Klopp will have even more strength in depth in midfield to pick from, as his side
This looks to finally be the end of a turbulent 12 months for Chamberlain, as a knee ligament injury suffered in last season’s Champions League semi final against Roma, meant that the Ox missed out on the final and a place in the England squad for the World Cup in Russia.
What was most disappointing was that this horrible injury came at a time when Chamberlain was just starting to cement his position in the German’s midfield three that performed so well last season.
It was his brilliant low drive that got the Reds off to the perfect start in a 4-3 win at Anfield in January, and he scored an even better goal against the same opposition three months later, this time in the Champions League quarter final as the Reds secured a 3-0 first leg victory.
Despite a successful operation on his knee, Klopp and his medical staff were fully aware of the severity of the injury, and after a delay (partly because Chamberlain did not want the news to affect his teammates) it was announced that he would be out of action for another year, effectively ruling him out of the 2018/19 season.
But the Ox appears to have recovered ahead of schedule from an injury which has ended many a player’s career. He played 40 minutes for Liverpool’s u23s at The Academy earlier this month, although he was substituted early after clutching his hamstring.
Klopp has been overjoyed which the news that the former Southampton and Arsenal man has returned to full training at Melwood,but has also stressed that process of reintegrating him back into his side will be a slow one.
This is a perfectly logical step given how long Chamberlain has been on the sidelines. But Reds fans will be eager to see a different dimension added into a midfield that has come under a lot of criticism since the turn of the year, with Manchester City now in the driving seat in the title race.
Whilst Sadio Mane is having the best season of his career, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino are struggling for goals at the moment, and the midfield players behind them have come under scrutiny for their supply to the front players.
There has been a real lack of dynamism and creativity in the middle of the park for Liverpool in recent months, whether that be in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation that Klopp likes to employ. Fabinho has showed that he is not just a defensive midfielder, with his range of passing and quality on the ball, but oddly has found himself left out of the side in recent weeks as part of Klopp’s rotation policy.
Big summer signing Naby Keita has not quite lived up to the billing in this campaign, and we probably won’t see the best of him until next season. Xherdan Shaqiri has also struggled for game time of late, despite an impressive run of goals and performances over the Christmas period. Adam Lallana has also been unable to hold down his place in the side following a string of injuries over the past two seasons.
Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijinaldum have been Klopp’s preferred midfield trio in recent weeks, and although they offer plenty industry and discipline, they aren’t the type of midfielders who can score a goal from outside the box or get a forward in at goal with an incisive pass.
But what the Ox demonstrated during his brilliant run of form last season was that he can do exactly that. He set up seven goals for his teammates in the Premier League last season, which showed his undoubted ability as a midfielder with vision and guile to create openings for Liverpool’s front three. He also chipped in with five goals in total during the campaign, which is something this season’s midfield have struggled to do of late.
Kopites will be desperate to see the 25-year old brought into a team that will go head to head with Pep Guardiola and Man City in the coming weeks for the title.
Although Jurgen Klopp himself has sided with caution and patience when dealing with players returning from long-term injuries, having Chamberlain back in the middle of the park could be the key in his side finally lifting that illustrious Premier League trophy.