Can he play you every week? - Oxlade-Chamberlain puts sloppy Liverpool on brink of last 16
Can he play you every week?
There’s something about Genk which brings Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to life, it seems.
He was the headline act in Belgium a fortnight ago, and the England international was at it again at Anfield, proving the matchwinner as Liverpool picked up a Champions League victory on Bonfire Night.
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This 2-1 victory may not have been the fireworks display many were anticipating, but it is significant nonetheless. With Napoli held at home by Salzburg in Tuesday’s other Group E fixture, the Reds can now guarantee progression to the last 16 as group winners by beating the Italians here on November 27. Given the fixture congestion coming up in December, that can only be good news for Jurgen Klopp’s side. "Job done," the manager remarked afterwards.
Oxlade-Chamberlain decided it; his 53rd-minute strike in front of the Kop settling matters after a low-key, at-times downright sloppy display from the European champions.
Liverpool led first through Gini Wijnaldum but Anfield was silenced when Ally Mbwana Samatta headed in an equaliser four minutes before half-time. Genk, modest opposition to say the least, were causing problems at that point. Their fans, singing their hearts out in the Anfield Road end, were daring to dream.
Those dreams were soon dashed as Oxlade-Chamberlain swivelled to fire home from Mohamed Salah’s neat pass. Having scored twice in the away fixture, and then adding a screamer in the Carabao Cup here against Arsenal last week, the former Gunner continued his hot streak in front of goal.
Will it be enough to play him into contention for a start against Manchester City on Sunday, though? Oxlade-Chamberlain, to many people’s surprise, started this game as Liverpool’s centre-forward, flanked by Salah and Divock Origi, as Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino were left on the bench.
"We wanted to have Ox between the lines, give him the space to turn and run at the last line with options right and left," said Klopp afterwards
The experiment, it has to be said, produced mixed results. Oxlade-Chamberlain was lively enough when dropping deep, and looked good leading the charge when Liverpool found a chance to counter at speed. However, in terms of link-up play, Firmino he is not. His future in this team is in midfield and he needs games, and sharpness, before he starts regularly, you feel. Even he admitted last week that there are levels to come.
To say Liverpool were far from their best here would be an understatement. They played much of the first half in second gear, as if unwilling to consider the idea that they could be troubled.
They missed chances to build on Wijnaldum’s 14th-minute opener, allowing their less-vaunted visitors a way back into what should have been a dead contest. "The longer the game goes, the more momentum the other team gets," admitted Klopp. Liverpool bossed the game, but still needed a second-half save from Alisson Becker to preserve their win.
Klopp had insisted that no Liverpool eyes were on Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash with City, but his team selection suggested otherwise. He made six changes to his starting XI, giving chances to Oxlade-Chamberlain, Origi, Naby Keita, James Milner and Joe Gomez while restoring Fabinho. Of the six, only the Brazilian is likely to start at the weekend.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has hurt City before, of course. His long-range strikes in 2018 provided memorable moments in the Premier League and in Europe, and he has hinted in recent weeks that the good times are not far away at all after his serious knee injury.
This was another decisive contribution, one which should see Liverpool safely into the knockout stages once more.
Don't be surprised to see Klopp return to his tried and trusted on Sunday though.