LIVERPOOL have changed beyond recognition since their rollercoaster 2017-18 season under Jürgen Klopp.
Control and patience has replaced the chaotic and frantic football that took the team on some incredible highs and mystifying lows.
In many senses, the season was embodied by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The one-time Arsenal enigma who lit up Anfield like a firefly until his cruel and devastating knee injury at home to AS Roma in the Champions League semi final.
Chamberlain is now very much part of Liverpool’s first team once again, something which represents an achievement of its own, given the severity of the blow he suffered. He capped his fourth successive Premier League start with his second league goal against West Ham.
But things haven’t been completely smooth for the 26-year-old in recent games. His visible signs of frustration when leaving the pitch, matched by some verbal dressing downs from both his captain and manager in game have led to a few casting a second glance over his performances.
Patience was always going to be the pivotal virtue with Chamberlain this season, but as a player who demands perfection in a team which most definitely does also, there is reason to look at where he can perhaps improve as Liverpool stride towards the league title.
If there is a worry, it is that at times Chamberlain is still playing a 2017-18 game that Liverpool has moved on from. He can do magical things on a football pitch – his second goal in Genk, for example – but at times he can also look like he is letting his own internal battle define his performance, especially if he makes an early mistake.
Against West Ham, he completed 78.9 per cent of his passes in a game where Liverpool had 70 per cent possession. While that is completely fine if he is trying to create openings that are unlucky in execution, what is apparent is that things are at times overhit and overthought.
Again, endeavor and effort are all things which should be applauded, and the beauty of this Liverpool team is that it has players for all eventualities. It is fine that Chamberlain may not always be the man for such occasions as West Ham, but might prove to be perfect for Southampton on Saturday, for example.
The player’s own development was cruelly halted as his club evolved into a football behemoth which now comes away from routine away league victories unhappy. That remains unfair to him to a degree, but he now needs to look at what type of player he is to define his role clearly.
Some remain adamant he is still best suited in a number-eight role, while others say he is an attacker and a limited few think he has a career as a full back. Such conversations need to be relaxed slightly, as does the player from next season.
Hopefully, last night’s strike does him the world of good. Oxlade-Chamberlain remains one of the most honest and likeable players in the Liverpool squad.
He, more than most, will deserve whatever accolades are waiting for this team come the end of this unimaginable season.
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I love Ox as a character and player, but I struggle to see how he’s ever going to be a consistent part of the side when he’s so injury-prone. It seems that his entire career has been stop/start, and I can’t see that changing.
It’s the same for Naby – phenomenal talent but seems to have muscles made of Play-Doh.