Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks set to miss out on the entirety of next season, The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) looks at what LFC need to do in the Ox’s extended absence.
Football has proven itself once again to be a cruel endeavour. Through all the glitz and glamour we get a glimpse of pure heartbreak far more often than we’d like to see.
In this case the news surfaced this week that the severity of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knee injury had been kept under wraps all along. Jurgen Klopp made a statement declaring that we would be fortunate to see the player in competitive action until the tail end of the season at the very earliest.
This is devastating news to all associated with the club especially the Ox himself. Since his transfer from Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain had seemingly completely turned his career around, and was finally thriving in the central midfield spot he had always craved…
However, despite the awful news all is not lost. When one door slams shut, another will invariably open for one of more members of the squad. In this case the two most likely men to step up in place of their sidelined teammate will be Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum. Both players have something to prove for different reasons.
For Wijnaldum, his brilliant form on the run to the Champions League final was not enough to stop him from looking seemingly expendable going into the new season after the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita. For Lallana, it is as ever a case of what have you done for me lately? He was sensational two season ago but has now become an afterthought due to an injury riddled campaign. Lallana always seemed to have to work that little bit harder to win over his detractors and in this instance, he is essentially back to square one again for many.
Similar Yet Different
Both Wijnaldum and Lallana though are very much Klopp favourites for a reason. They possess a variety of qualities the boss values most notably their ability to retain possession, yet also their boundless energy which facilitates the pressing game. Wijnaldum came to Anfield with a reputation as a goalscoring attacking midfielder but his role has changed to that of a more prototypical central midfield player sometimes even playing as the deepest lying midfield man.
To the contrary, Lallana arrived also as a goalscoring attacking midfielder but actually delivered more impactful offensive performances when Klopp moved him back into the midfield to make the most of his special abilities.
Whatever way you evaluate these two players, both can slot seamlessly into our starting eleven without an obvious drop in quality. Lallana if anything has the higher ceiling of the duo based on his form from two years ago but he will understandably have to prove himself all over again. In short though, while they may not be in everybody’s starting eleven anymore neither are liabilities by any stretch. They can both be integral members of the first team for long stretches if needed.
Top Class Attitudes
I almost don’t need to make this point anymore as Jurgen Klopp has made it abundantly clear the type of personalities he wants in the squad. Lallana and Wijnaldum though are both great teammates and despite occasions where they haven’t played as much as they would like, you never hear a bad word from them. They also most importantly give their all whenever their opportunity arises.
These are the type of players you need to build championship winning squads. It is not enough to simply have a pretty good first eleven as we did last year. You need at least 20 top class players who are capable of coming into the team when necessary.
In fact it was Wijnaldum who needed to step up in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain last season when it appeared that he was destined to see out the remainder of European campaign from the substitutes bench. It is a mentality of a top class player who can keep his head in the game to be ready for when he is needed. It sounds simple but it is one of the qualities can that separate the good from the great. Circumstances can change in a heartbeat and we need players with team-first attitudes ready waiting in the wings who can jump right in.
Game Changing Ability
It is important to remember of course that Lallana and Wijnaldum aren’t just two run of the mill players who work hard and keep positives attitudes from the sidelines. These are two international calibre players who are very much capable of being difference makers on any given match day. Gini was less involved in the goalscoring stakes last season scoring just once in the league but he still was able to step up with a gargantuan goal in the Champions League semi final in Rome. Thanks to that goal, he has also finally removed that sizable ‘I can’t score away from home’ shaped monkey off his back.
Lallana has always had a nice blend of playmaking ability, pressing skills, and of course the knack for big goals. When he does play in the midfield, he tends to play as the most advanced of the trio where his runs from late into the box are incredibly hard to pick up. He has had a full off-season and pre-season to get his form up to previous levels and that can only be a good thing for Liverpool supporters.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Lallana back being one of our better players again to start the season having missed out on World Cup selection for lack of game time. England’s loss in our gain. Wijnaldum’s national side the Netherlands also missed out of qualification of course which should leave the Dutchman fresh for the new campaign as well.
The moral of this story is write off these two talented individuals at your peril. We may have some shiny new toys coming in this summer but as we have seen already with the injury news of Oxlade-Chamberlain, you can never have too much quality in the squad. Most are lauding the value that Xherdan Shaqiri will bring after his arrival from Stoke as an impact sub/depth option.
You have to consider that Lallana and Wijnaldum as well as the ever present James Milner will once again be huge contributors to the midfield depth over the course of the season in a similar manner to Shaqiri’s contributions higher up the pitch. With the squad hopefully battling on many fronts this year, squad rotation will be even more integral to Jurgen Klopp’s plans.
Strong squads are most successful in the long run and these two midfield dynamos will be a massive part of that collective unit in the months to come.