Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to return to action for the first time since April 2018 on Friday as the Liverpool midfielder steps up his recovery from knee surgery.
Now he is ready for the next step, Jurgen Klopp has confirmed, which will involve a run out for Liverpool’s Under- 23 side against Deby County on Friday.
“The plan is to give him some match time,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “All that we saw so far in training looks really good, it looks really exciting, but we all know it is a massive difference between each training session you have and playing a proper game.
“It’s not about the opponent, it’s about judging situations, a bigger pitch, higher intensity, a different concentration level. The preparation for a match is different to a normal training session, so players after a long period [out] need to get used to that.”
Klopp downplayed any desire to rush Oxlade-Chamberlain back from injury, noting this is just part of the process in his recovery.
“There is absolutely no expectation on the game [for him] apart from go through it, tick that box, come back and go on training again,” Klopp added. “It doesn’t say anything about him 'being ready for five days later' or whatever, it is just a first – and very, very important – step.
“As I said, in training Ox is back but now we have to make sure we really prepare him for the rest of his career and the rest of this season.
“Probably it will be 45 minutes and that’s absolutely OK. It is a bit difficult for Critch [U-23 manager Neil Critchley] when the manager tells you to make a change at half-time, but it’s nice for Ox.
“The boys worked really hard and a lot with him in rehab, but you cannot do it like it is a normal football game. The intensity cannot be that high or you kill a player then. He needs matches and as many as possible, but we are in the middle of the season and will not say now, ‘You need six or seven matches until you are ready.’
“It is about getting him the experience again on the pitch, getting him back in this one and then using him minute-by-minute on the pitch. As long as all the other players are fit and stuff like that, we will have to see who can help the team more when he is finally back.
“In the moment, he looks brilliant, everything is really, really good. Now let’s play football.”
Klopp also indicated that while Oxlade-Chamberlain will play in a game this week, it did not mean the midfielder is set for an imminent return to the first team.
Instead, Klopp thinks a more realistic return date is after the mid-March international break.
“I am happy people didn’t ask after one session if he could play at the weekend!” Klopp said. “He’s had a couple of sessions and now he has a first game and that’s really cool.
“Let’s see how he reacts, how he feels and all that stuff. But it is not in the plans, there is nothing to think about before the international break, but this game, maybe another game and having a bit longer and then having the international break, which from now is around three weeks I think, so then. Let’s see.”