Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is leaving Liverpool but his Anfield career might have panned out very differently.
“I had no idea how to replace him, honestly – Ox was that good.” It’s easy to forget just how good Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was in his first season at Liverpool. A £40million fee from Arsenal seemed steep but very quickly the Englishman started to look like the prototype Jurgen Klopp midfielder.
Klopp admitted to Liverpool’s official website this week, as the club celebrates the player’s Anfield career before he departs, that he’s “pretty sure” Oxlade-Chamberlain “is not 100 per cent happy” with how his Liverpool spell panned out. Certainly despite his contributions towards major trophies, there is a tinge of disappointment.
As Klopp says, the box-to-box midfielder became “a proper No 8” on Merseyside. Able to pick a pass or drive through the lines in possession, intelligent in his movements and a great presser, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s blend of pace and power but also finesse and technique suggested he was going to live up to the promise he showed in flashes at Arsenal.
He was everything Klopp seemed to need from a central midfielder. His two goals against Manchester City in his first season showed that in particular – Klopp calling his first, in a 4-3 Premier League win, his “favourite football moment” of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s. In his debut season he made 42 appearances for the Reds, contributing five goals and eight assists.
“That was the first sort of moment in my career where I sort of felt a bit unstoppable,” Oxlade-Chamberlain admits now. A severe knee injury in April against Roma saw him damage all four ligaments in his right knee and regrettably, he never consistently found the same level of performance after that.
The effervescent Oxlade-Chamberlain actually had the best goalscoring campaign of his top-flight career in the title-winning 2019-20 season with eight goals – and he was excellent in the final pre-Covid match against Atletico Madrid in March 2020. But he never quite rediscovered that uncontainable level he played at before the Roma injury.
That moment changed the trajectory of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Liverpool career – although he still departs with a whole host of medals and some spectacular goals and assists on his highlight reel. Sadly though, he has been dogged by injuries and also missed major spells of the 2020/21 and 2022/23 seasons due to knocks.
The same too must be said of the much-maligned Naby Keita. In a parallel universe, the pair have avoided recurring injuries and Liverpool perhaps have several more trophies in the cabinet. Certainly, they are not in the midfield predicament they face now. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita are still in their late 20s, and in a dream scenario, the pair are week-in, week-out starters and contributing the dynamism and energy Liverpool so sorely miss.
The former, fully fit and at the levels he played at in 2017-18, is the powerful box-to-box presence that the current side desperately needs. Instead, they will be replaced by the likes of Alexis Mac Allister – and potentially Manu Kone and Kephren Thuram – who Klopp will hope fare better with their fitness on Anfield.
And too, he will pray Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita can go away from Liverpool and stay injury free so they can show how good they can be. What a pity though that the former in particular, who looked such a perfect fit for the German, will always be left thinking ‘what might have been?’