This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
However scrappy and difficult it may have been, Liverpool got the job done against Sheffield United on Saturday afternoon. Bramall Lane proved to be a tough ground for the Reds to play their normal game, and so scraping a win by any way, shape or form is always a great sign.
But the 1-0 score-line and overall performance does raise some questions about Jurgen Klopp’s team selection and tactical set-up. The Blades were set up to sit back and soak up the pressure before hitting the visitors on the counter, and it was no surprise to see Liverpool struggle to break them down – the side had just four shots on target as per Sofascore. One man who could perhaps solve that kind of headache in future games is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 26-year-old has made his return from a serious injury, and has provided Klopp with another option off the bench. But the unique set of skills he possesses means he may be ideally suited to starting games against teams who want to adopt a similarly defensive approach to the one employed by Chris Wilder’s men on Saturday.
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The England international has naturally been a winger, having played there for the majority of his career – in his 299 games as listed by Transfermarkt, 171 of them have come on either the left or right flanks. But, in the 42 games he has played in central midfield, the former Arsenal man has produced a fine return of six goals and nine assists.
His pace and athleticism means that if he is used in more central areas, he can commit opposition midfielders by taking them on – in the time he has been on the pitch this season in the Premier League, Oxlade-Chamberlain has averaged one shot and 1.4 dribbles per game.
Speaking earlier this year after the Reds’ 0-0 draw with Everton, Graeme Souness questioned Klopp’s insistence on playing Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho (the exact same trio who featured at the weekend).
“They have a fabulous midfield and if you are playing in Liverpool’s back four that is the midfield you want, but if you are playing up front then maybe it’s not the midfield you want. They don’t create too much and they don’t slip clever and cute passes in and I think that’s where they are coming unstuck.”
Having Oxlade-Chamberlain in there however changes all that. The Merseyside club would have someone who can carry the ball from deep in midfield and increase the pace of the game with some powerful running. When the Reds next come up against a side likely to drop deep back and defend the edge of their own box, Klopp may well be better off throwing the 26-year-old in from the start.