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Oxlade-Chamberlain takes another step forward but red-hot Mane is scary Liverpool's star man

16:28 EAT 14/09/2019
Sadio Mane Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp's side extended their perfect start to the Premier League season by coming from behind to beat Newcastle 3-1 at Anfield on Saturday

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may have wondered if this day would ever come.

The Liverpool midfielder has had to wait a long time to start a competitive game at Anfield but here he was, helping Jurgen Klopp’s side extend their perfect start to the new Premier League season with a 3-1 win over Newcastle. The Red machine shows no sign of slowing – not even after the inconvenience of the international break.

It is 508 days since the Champions League semi-final which turned Oxlade-Chamberlain’s world upside down. The knee injury he suffered against Roma that night kept him out of action for a year, and its effects are still being felt. By his own admission, and that of his manager, it will be some time before he is operating at full capacity once again.

But here, making his 50th appearance for the club, he took another sizeable step forward, playing 75 minutes and ensuring Liverpool maintained their place at the top of the table. Money in the bank, as they say. 

His inclusion, in truth, was as much due to the schedule as anything, Klopp taking the opportunity to rotate his squad with games at Napoli and Chelsea to come in the next seven days.

It meant rests for Roberto Firmino – briefly, at least – and Jordan Henderson, with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right of the Reds’ midfield three and Divock Origi joining Sadio Mane and Mo Salah in the front three.

It was an inauspicious start by the home side, who fell behind to Jetro Willems’ howitzer inside seven minutes. Could a routine afternoon turn into a banana skin?

Liverpool were poor to begin with.

“Wake up!” screamed Klopp to the fans behind him in the Main Stand, but his ire should really have been directed at his players, who were sloppy and sluggish early on. The early kick-off had a decidedly snoozy feel to it, for 20 minutes or so.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had been brighter than most in those exchanges, demanding the ball and showing enough confidence to stride forward and shoot from 25 yards or so. His effort, though, flashed wide.

It will take time before all the parts are working as normal, of course. The injury was a horrendous one – three-in-one, effectively – and this was only the third start he has made since it. 

But for every misplaced pass or heavy touch – and there were a few, including one in the build-up to the second goal – there was something to remind Liverpool fans what they had missed without him, a burst between a couple of opponents into space or a bit of imagination in possession. 

He doesn’t always do the right thing, but he does things that Klopp’s other midfielders don’t. And the sharper he gets, the more he will do of them, for sure. 

Newcastle had not won here in any competition since November 1995, and not in the league since April 1994, but for a time Steve Bruce’s men were dreaming of becoming the first visiting side to triumph here in the league since April 2017. 

Mane killed off those dreams. The Senegal star has been in red-hot form for what feels like an eternity, and with his team in need, he stepped up to the plate once more.

His first was a beauty, curled into the top corner after excellent work from Andy Robertson, while his second was an exercise in persistence, latching onto substitute Firmino’s pass, benefiting from a lucky bounce off goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to score. Thanks to Mane, normal service had been resumed before half-time.

The forward now has 20 goals in his last 21 Premier League games at Anfield, and moves level with Sergio Aguero on 18 for the calendar year. In a team of stars – a league of stars – he continues to shine as brightly as any.

Mind you, he has competition, Firmino is perhaps playing the best football of his Reds career alongside him, emerging from the bench in the first half to deliver a majestic display, lit up by the most wonderful of assists for Salah to clinch the points. That's 50 goal involvements in 41 games at Anfield for Salah. He likes his home comforts.

And so Liverpool march on, with five wins from five. They continue to set the pace, even if they took a little while to hit their stride here. 

With Mane in this kind of form, with Firmino sparkling alongside, with Salah scoring and with Oxlade-Chamberlain working his way, bit by bit, back to full fitness, there should be more to come from Klopp’s side.

Scary, eh?