Oxlade-Chamberlain shines but new-look midfield unconvincing – Media on Genk 1-4 Liverpool

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The media lauded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s form in Liverpool’s 4-1 win at Genk but were less convinced by the new-look midfield and defensive display.

The Reds finally ended the two-year wait for a Champions League group stage away win with an emphatic victory in Belgium.

A finishing exhibition from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah earned the much-needed three points, with Stephen Odey’s strike proving only a consolation.

It was a very important victory for Liverpool which takes the Reds into a controlling position in Group E along with leaders Napoli.

Here is what the media made of the victory.

 

Reporters were full of praise for Oxlade-Chamberlain and discussed how he will bring another dimension…

GENK, BELGIUM - Wednesday, October 23, 2019: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (L) celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between KRC Genk and Liverpool FC at the KRC Genk Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Telegraph’s Chris Bascombe thought the No.15 took a big leap forward and showed the extra dimension he will bring:

He was replaced on 74 minutes so denied the chance to complete a hat-trick – he might have got it but for a wayward Mo Salah pass seconds earlier – yet he can consider this more of a leap than step on the path to re-establishing himself at Anfield.

Klopp and Liverpool want to see more, demonstrating even the European champions can benefit from another dimension.

The Liverpool Echo’s Ian Doyle saw signs of Oxlade-Chamberlain rediscovering his best form and believes that all the midfielder needs now is consistency:

There were further flashes of the barnstorming, powerful player that made him such a thrilling presence in the second half of his debut season, the standing ovation from the away end on his late substitution fully deserved.

Consistency is the next step for the England man. For now, though, Oxlade-Chamberlain remains heading in the right direction.

Standard Sport’s David Lynch explained how Oxlade-Chamberlain is the Reds’ biggest goal threat outside of the main attack, and this should see him included more regularly:

But tonight’s showing is a reminder that he is arguably the club’s biggest goal threat outside of that venerated front three.

And he will have earned plenty of chances to prove that in the near future with his efforts against Genk.

 

However, members of the media were less impressed with the functionality of Klopp’s new-look midfield…

GENK, BELGIUM - Wednesday, October 23, 2019: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (L) celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mate Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between KRC Genk and Liverpool FC at the KRC Genk Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Writing for Goal.com, Neil Jones felt the new unit lacked solidity and were too open, which would have been exposed and punished by better quality opposition:

They did exactly that at times, although the flipside is that at others Liverpool looked far more open than Klopp would have wished.

Indeed, when their full-backs, Andy Robertson and the ever-versatile Milner, looked to push on, the Reds had as many as seven players attacking. A better, more polished team than Genk might have made more of the space that afforded.

Bascombe stated that the Fabinho-Keita-Oxlade-Chamberlain triumvirate is not yet ready for the Premier League stage due the vulnerability displayed:

Despite the goals of Oxlade-Chamberlain and tidy passing of Keita, the only sound conclusion is – as a midfield trio – it is not quite ready for the most demanding Premier League tests. Not yet.

Exciting with the ball, it is a long time since a Klopp side looked so vulnerable without it, their formation often resembling 4-1-5, attacking midfielders offering no protection to rampaging full-backs.

Carl Markham, for the Independent, noted how problems arose through Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lack of pressing, as it allowed Genk to exploit spaces around Fabinho:

However, one of the drawbacks of such an attacking midfield is the lack of pressure on the ball and the space it can leave either side of Fabinho and that was evident in the first half where Genk could – and probably should – have scored at least once.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 2, 2019: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Liverpool FC and FC Salzburg at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Bascombe also thought that the unconvincing midfield display highlighted why Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are so trusted by Klopp:

On occasion Liverpool had nine caught upfield.

Where Henderson and Wijnaldum excel in that unseen dirty work, covering the tracks of Andy Robertson or the Liverpool right back – in this case James Milner – Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain are not yet so well-drilled in such disciplines.

The Liverpool Echo’s Paul Gorst thinks the lack of discipline in the performance will see both Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain drop back to the bench against Tottenham:

It is difficult to envisage a scenario where Klopp keeps both in his midfield for Sunday’s visit from Tottenham, you feel, despite the cut and thrust they offer that simply isn’t there when the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner are picked for battle.

Lynch was more positive however, assessing how the trio allowed Liverpool to play more progressive football and the positive individual form now increase competition for places:

A lack of midfield pressure was partly to blame for Genk finding an out ball so regularly in the first half, but there were also many moments of ingenuity and progressive football that can at times be lacking from the Reds in that area of the pitch.

Of course, Klopp won’t be too worried about finding the perfect blend at this early stage of the season – he’ll mostly be delighted that he has such a wealth of options.

 

Reporters were also not convinced by Liverpool’s defensive form and feel it’s becoming a worrying trend…

GENK, BELGIUM - Wednesday, October 23, 2019: Liverpool's Joe Gomez (L) and KRC Genk's Paul Onuachu during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between KRC Genk and Liverpool FC at the KRC Genk Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Guardian’s Andy Hunter saw concerns in the way the Reds gave up big chances despite being in control of the game:

It was still a surprise how easily Liverpool were opened up whenever Genk had possession, and they did not have it often.

[…]

But the gaps appeared across Liverpool’s defence.

The Mail’s Dominic King thought that came down to too many Reds playing without disciplined and the absence of “the usual cohesion”:

Liverpool were loose and sloppy, erratic in possession and the usual cohesion in their defence was out of sync; too many players wanted to get forward too often and it was making life uncomfortable.

The Independent’s Kishan Vaghela thinks Liverpool need to have better organisation to guard against being exploited in the spaces vacated by full-backs:

Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson’s movements forwards have helped Liverpool become one of the most merciless attacking outfits, but Jurgen Klopp’s insistence that they must thunder forward does leave gaping gaps between the fullbacks and the centre-backs.

It was a weakness that Genk opened up early on in the piece, and had the likes of Paul Onuachu and Mbwana Samatta made more of their lung-busting runs exposing the space, Liverpool could have had one or two more frights to contend with.

The BBC’s Shamoon Hafez noted how Klopp’s side particularly struggled defending Genk’s long balls:

They were, at times, rather easily opened up at the back by Genk, as two long balls set Samatta and Onuachu in on goal, but neither player was able to find the net.

The Mirror’s Rich Jones has spotted a worrying trend with Liverpool struggling defensive in Europe:

They have conceded eight goals in their opening two games against Napoli and RB Salzburg and, although Genk didn’t find the back of the net until late, they looked vulnerable in Belgium.

Long balls caught them out several times in the first half as the physicality of 6ft7 target man Paul Onuachu with Mbwana Samatta in behind caused them problems. They looked vulnerable, a trend in the Champions League thus far, and they need that to change.

Finally, Bascombe likened the performance to one from Brendan Rodgers’ gung-ho 2013/14 team:

This was a Liverpool performance thrilling in attacking intensity but so deeply flawed in the defensive structure it was a throwback to those years prior to Virgil Van Dijk’s arrival. Stick in a DVD of Liverpool’s 2013-14 season and it will fit seamlessly.

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