Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain barely needed to look. He knew.
West Ham had just scored the second of their three goals at the London Stadium on Sunday, Pablo Fornals squeezing a shot past Alisson Becker after Jarrod Bowen had slipped away from three Liverpool players - Oxlade-Chamberlain included - to create the chance.
Thiago Alcantara had been ready to come on anyway, but now it was a salvage job for the Spain international. ‘Go on and save us,’ rather than ‘go on and win it for us.’
For Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, it was merely another opportunity squandered, another chance not taken.
It sounds brutal, but he might not get many more.
“It makes sense that he starts,” Jurgen Klopp had said pre-match. It was a decision born out of necessity as much as anything - Curtis Jones, James Milner, Naby Keita and Harvey Elliott are all injured, while Thiago is working his way back to full fitness after a calf problem - but the Reds boss had been pleased with what he saw from Oxlade-Chamberlain against Atletico Madrid in midweek, and so decided to hand him his first Premier League start since the opening weekend of the season.
It did not work, Liverpool stumbling to their first competitive defeat since April, outscored and overpowered by a West Ham side which continues to impress, and which moved above the Reds in the table as a result.
For once, the international break may have come at the right time for Klopp, whose side have looked jaded and a little off-colour in their last two league fixtures, conceding five goals and dropping five points in the process. For a team with genuine title aspirations, it has not been a great 10 days.
Getting players back will help, for sure. Klopp will have Jones available for the visit of Arsenal on November 20, and he has suggested that one or both of Milner and Keita will be fit too.
Bad news for Oxlade-Chamberlain, then. And is it too harsh to say that time is running out for the 28-year-old at Anfield?Getty/Goal
This, normally, would be the time he and the club would be thinking about a new contract. His current deal expires at the end of next season, but there has been little sign of movement in terms of an extension. Why would there, when there is so much uncertainty on both sides?
Liverpool do not know what they are going to get from Oxlade-Chamberlain when he plays, and Oxlade-Chamberlain does not know when, or how often, he is going to play. It sounds brutal, but if everyone is fit - a big if, granted - he is probably Klopp’s eighth-choice midfielder, and the one who looks least suited to the game Liverpool are trying to play, both on and off the ball.
Against West Ham, of the players who started for the Reds, only Trent Alexander-Arnold had a lower pass completion rate, and no player won possession back on fewer occasions.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, along with Fabinho and Andy Robertson, as well as Joel Matip, was found wanting for the Hammers’ second goal, unable to stop Bowen driving through the centre of the field to set up Fornals. “We lost too many balls,” Klopp admitted, disappointed at his side’s lack of “patience”, particularly with the game poised at 1-1 in the second half.
There was a feeling, even before the season began, that Liverpool would regret their failure to sign a direct replacement for Gini Wijnaldum in the summer, and that feeling has only been strengthened by the opening weeks of the campaign. If Klopp hoped others would be able to step up and fill the void left by the Dutchman, then he has been disappointed so far.Getty/Goal
He is right to say there is potential within his squad. Certainly in terms of Elliott, 18, and Jones, 20, both of whom look like stars of the future. Tyler Morton, another teenager, is also edging towards the first-team picture after impressive showings in the Carabao Cup, though he will need to bulk up physically if he is to take on the Premier League.
Fabinho and Henderson are pretty much guaranteed starters when fit, but Keita’s Reds career remains frustratingly stop-start, every bright performance seemingly followed by a momentum-checking injury. Thiago, similarly, is yet to get going since his move from Bayern Munich.
Milner will be 36 in January and is out of contract at the end of the season; hardly the man to build a team around, even if he remains one of the club’s true standard-bearers in terms of fitness, professionalism and attitude.
All of which leaves Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was no surprise to see stories emerge last month suggesting he was growing frustrated at a lack of game-time, and floating the idea that he may need to leave in order to secure regular football.
Liverpool refused to even consider a sale in the summer, and understandably so. This will be a gruelling season, and January’s Africa Cup of Nations will do little to help the Reds’ cause.
Oxlade-Chamberlain will be needed again this season, for sure. The question is whether he can take the chances which come his way.
If he does not start to soon, it is hard to see a long-term future for him on Merseyside.