Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has had an extremely eventful, up-and-down Liverpool career so far and 2019/20 was much the same in small doses, but a definite uptrend overall.
It’s important to have perspective when it comes to Ox’s season. It’s only a year on from the midfielder returning to action with a couple of cameo appearances, following well over 12 months on the sidelines after a terrible knee injury.
Although he ended 2018/19 making two late entrances as sub in the league, he was then clearly nowhere near really ready and that summer – last pre-season – was still very much about regaining mobility, flexible movement and match rhythm.
Factoring in those circumstances, the No. 15—a new jersey for 2019/20—had a huge amount of game time overall, playing 43 times for the Reds in all competitions and showing that he is still capable of playing for the best side in the league.
Did he become a first-team starter again? Perhaps not. But again, perspective. And patience, too. Two years was what he was told, in terms of the knee not feeling unusual or still having after-effects, and there’s every chance another upturn in impact is on the horizon for Ox in 2020/21.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 2019/20
Started: 25 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 18
Unused sub: 8
Overall season rating: 7.5
Heads, ankles, knees and calves, knees and calves
Classic issue for professional sportspeople: you recover from one long injury lay-off, only to find yourself beset by other issues. They can be related, knock-on effects or entirely separate, but caused by a return to action to which your body is no longer used to.
Ox had those issues early this season, which was to be expected. A persistent calf problem arose, not a strain or pull or anything to do with the knee directly, but probably an overload issue as he tried to rebuild the muscles back up to tolerate the necessary load for 90 minutes and beyond.
It’s frustrating, but there’s little which can be done about it other than give it time, which Jurgen Klopp was happy to do. That calf problem didn’t keep Ox sidelined as such, but it did prevent him going full tilt, and certainly for game after game, all match long.
Noticeable games in both pre-season and the campaign proper saw Oxlade-Chamberlain play well, look bright, but then fade.
Partly that’s form, partly that’s his style, but also he was hampered by not being able to continually sprint, change direction and so on.
Later in the year, he suffered an ankle issue in Qatar, which initially looked as though it could be far worse or even knee-related as he went down, and he also missed a game or two with a head injury.
Thankfully none of these remotely compared to 2018’s horror show. But they all, on and off, contributed to a stop-start first half of the season. Again, that was probably to Ox’s benefit, somewhat, as he could keep training after, keep rebuilding, keep contributing in patches—as the team was absolutely flying.
He’s back, but how high can he fly?
If 2019 was all about getting back to full fitness, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves one hell of an applause for achieving that: between January 11 and the final day of Liverpool’s season he appeared in every Premier League fixture, as well as both legs in Europe against Atletico Madrid.
That’s a reliability and robustness which is worthy of acclaim, and not just for Ox but the medical department, too.
From those last 18 league games, there’s more to consider, which hint at either current limitations or future improvements, depending on your point of view of the 26-year-old.
Ox didn’t complete a single 90-minute game in the league. He came close, being subbed in the 84th minute or later on four occasions, but a full 90 evaded him.
His performances weren’t always a 9/10. He hit that kind of impact in patches of some games, and in others, he came off the bench to completely change the flow of the match and inject energy, drive and a goalscoring threat into a team which had been inert until then. But other times he was on the periphery, kept quiet and unable to get shots away from in or outside the box.
Whatever else he brings to the team, Oxlade-Chamberlain is a goalscorer, and as his strikes against Genk, West Ham and Chelsea showed, he’s brilliant at adding an extra bit of invention in his movement and desire to find the net at improbable moments.
It doesn’t always have to be the forwards, and Ox is one of those who back up the front three—in fact, he’s our fourth-highest scorer this season, from just 2,195 minutes, the 12th-highest in the squad by game time.
The question now is whether this is what Ox is for the Reds—an on-and-off attacking option—or whether he can raise it another level after a season back in the groove.
Next season and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future role
Other than a quickly quelled suggestion that Atletico Madrid wanted him, there doesn’t seem much doubt that Ox will continue at Anfield.
The challenge for him, of course, remains to have a bigger, longer-lasting impact on matches – he needs to almost showcase his attacking ability every time he’s in possession, it seems, as that’s his key selling point over the other midfield options.
It’ll likely end up being more of the same. He’s an alternative for when Klopp wants a more offensive-minded starting 11, or needs more penetration from deep.
He’s also an option to play wide in the front line, though most fans prefer him central. Ox does, however, have that ability to speed past the last challenge and clip a good ball in toward the six-yard area, a characteristic which should see him get a few more assists than it has. The right flank as a narrow ‘winger’ suits him more than playing as a left-sided inside forward does, somewhat similar to Pedro’s old role for Barcelona.
But, if he keeps adding goals and brings the same defensive tracking and work rate that the other 8s do, there’s still no reason why he cannot force his way back into the preferred starting 11 once more.
Best moment: A brilliant brace against Genk in the Champions League.
Worst moment: An injury in the Club World Cup final which momentarily looked worse than it thankfully was, with Ox slamming the ground in frustration after his then-recent long comeback.
Role next season: Squad option, another 35-40 games or so across all competitions, a good player to have.