Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play a match for the first time in 11 months on Friday, but don’t expect him in first-team contention until April.
The 25-year-old midfielder has been working his way back to fitness since sustaining a potentially-career ending knee injury against Roma last season.
After surgery and extensive rehab, he’s now finally back in full training and Jurgen Klopp has confirmed the next step is to get him back onto the pitch in a more competitive environment.
There’s no clear timescale as yet in terms of Oxlade-Chamberlain featuring for the senior side, but Klopp has confirmed it will be a matter of training and U23 matches until the international break in mid-March.
“The plan is to give him some match time” Klopp confirmed after recent reports indicated the midfielder would feature for the Reds’ under-23s on Friday.
“All that we saw so far in training looks really good, it looks really exciting, but we all know it is a massive difference between each training session you have and playing a proper game.
“It’s not about the opponent, it’s about judging situations, a bigger pitch, higher intensity, a different concentration level. The preparation for a match is different to a normal training session, so players after a long period [out] need to get used to that.”
The boss is urging caution when it comes to what Oxlade-Chamberlain might achieve, not just on Friday but over the coming weeks.
Having been out for such a long time, the medical staff will be monitoring any reactions to the game time the No. 21 suffers, while a little-and-often approach will be taken to build up Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fitness.
“There is absolutely no expectation on the game [for him] apart from go through it, tick that box, come back and go on training again.
“It doesn’t say anything about him ‘being ready for five days later’ or whatever, it is just a first – and very, very important – step. As I said, in training Ox is back but now we have to make sure we really prepare him for the rest of his career and the rest of this season.
“Let’s see how he reacts, how he feels and all that stuff.
“But it is not in the plans, there is nothing to think about before the international break, but this game, maybe another game and having a bit longer and then having the international break, which from now is around three weeks I think, so then let’s see.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to play 45 minutes against Derby, while Nat Phillips will also feature.
The centre-back has missed much of the campaign with an injury of his own and will hope to once more push his own claim for future involvement.
It has been poor fortune for Phillips, who impressed in pre-season and might have been in line for senior action this term after Liverpool suffered a succession of injuries in the position.