This article is part of Football FanCast’s One to Watch series, which focuses on those players we think are particularly worth keeping an eagle-eye on as the 2019/20 season unfolds.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has endured a rough road to recovery ever since a stark challenge from the rugged Aleksandar Kolarov ruled him out for the best-part of twelve months, conveniently depriving his former club’s arch title-rival of arguably their most exuberant attacking midfielder.
But the man affectionately nicknamed ‘The Ox’ is fit once again and back in contention to compete for a starting berth in the 2019/20 season, though the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita since his injury have notably shifted the dynamic.
Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Arsenal from Southampton before moving to Liverpool in a deal worth around £35m. He’d enjoyed a mixed time at the Emirates, but since arriving in Merseyside the Ox has played some of his most eye-catching football, especially when deployed in central midfield.
The midfielder never had much of a chance in the middle during his Arsenal days, but in his first season at Liverpool he was able to get many more opportunities in that role.
He came into his own and showcased his diligent, all-action approach when his side beat Manchester City in the Champions League and also in the Premier League. In both games he was exceptional and a wholly menacing prospect who at times made elite players look distinctly average.
Whisper it quietly but it was the kind of big game display that Liverpool fans became accustomed to witnessing from Steven Gerrard, so his development this season is a sub plot that will captivate fans from Merseyside and beyond during the campaign, particularly with Euro 2020 looming on the horizon.
The 25-year-old started every single one of Liverpool’s pre-season games barring the Community Shield, which suggests he could well be in contention to feature on the opening day against Norwich.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have all been on international duty this summer at the African Cup of Nations and the Copa America respectively, so it’s unlikely that any one of the trio will be at their frightening best in the early stages of the campaign.
This presents a massive opportunity for Oxlade-Chamberlain to cement a place in the starting XI for the beginning of the year, but that would mean reverting to a wide role.
The famous Liverpool front three will need to be rotated and moved around throughout the season, so opportunities will arise for the former Gunner to play.
However, earning a run of games in central midfield is likely to be at the forefront of the England international’s mind and a short-term target for him to focus on during the opening months of the season.
This is where the Ox could have a real impact. Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho created a combined six big chances in the Premier League season, with five assists altogether, whereas the Manchester City trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho and David Silva created managed 31 ‘big chances created’ and provided 13 assists, and all that in a season in which the Belgian maestro was missing for large chunks.
That the versatile midfielder created five big chances in his maiden league campaign at Liverpool -combined with his glaring verve and energy – suggests Klopp can prise further creativity out of his midfield by reintroducing him into the fold this season.
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He should be looking to return to the middle of the park and inject the drive and spark the midfield has often lacked, though fans cannot and should not expect immediate fireworks after such a prolonged spell on the sideline.
Getting through the year without any further injuries or major setbacks would represent a mini success in itself and, if he can do this while regularly featuring across multiple competitions, he’s likely to put himself in prime position to earn selection for Gareth Southgate’s England squad next summer.
Aside from domestic ambitions with Liverpool, that will be the ultimate aim driving a player who cruelly missed out on England’s last major tournament through injury.
Chamberlain should look to achieve (in all competitions):