When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Liverpool from Arsenal for £35million, much of the talk surrounding his transfer, and his previous grievance at the Emirates, was based around which position he would play at his new club compared to the one he had been playing at his old one.
He was effectively utilised as a wing-back in his final games at the North London side, including in last season’s FA Cup final in which Arsenal defeated Chelsea by two goals to one.
Another consideration was the prospect of regular first-team football in a more prominent position, and Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp convinced the player that he would get the role he wanted if he moved up north.
“In the system we use at the moment, he can play in four different positions,” said Klopp. “He can play in both the No. 8 roles and in both wide roles.
“He is a very good football player. He is good in small spaces. Really good in big spaces. A good dribbler. A good passer. We want to have him on the pitch as often as possible.”
The system the German was using at the time, and has continued to use a version of since despite a number of tweaks, contained two attack-minded central midfielders and two wing-forwards. These are the four positions he spoke of when describing Oxlade-Chamberlain’s potential role in the side.
Since arriving at the club, however, he’s yet to start a game in the Premier League or Champions League, with his only appearance in the starting line-up coming in the Carabao Cup defeat at Leicester City.
He started all three of Arsenal’s Premier League games prior to moving to Anfield, so may be disappointed to have not featured in the competition since, despite the fact he probably expected a bedding in period.
In mid-October Klopp gave an update on the 24-year-old’s situation, commenting that his progress has been hampered by a the change in the way he’s being asked to play at Liverpool, when compared with the systems used as Arsenal and England.
“Obviously it is a different style to Arsenal and a different role to the wing-back role he played in his last games for Arsenal,” said Klopp.
“Then he plays for England and they all come back from their national teams not confused, but with different plans. That’s not too simple.
“I would say there has been no consistency until now. We let him run so far, let him do what he is naturally good at and it will take time but it’s all good. He is obviously powerful and that is what we need. At the moment his best position is more the wing that the No. 8. Without training, playing in the middle of the park doesn’t make sense.
“At this moment he is training only on the wing so it is clear. It can never be without training as a No.8 first. It wouldn’t be good for him, it wouldn’t be good for us. For now it makes more sense to pick him in the more offensive positions. But it is not fixed for the next five years.”
All but one of his appearances from the bench for Liverpool have come in the wide positions, but even with Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho, and Adam Lallana out with injury, he’s still yet to make the starting eleven.
The game at home to Huddersfield Town seemed like the ideal opportunity to give him a first league start, but Klopp introduced Daniel Sturridge in place of Coutinho, moving Roberto Firmino to the left wing and using Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner in front of Jordan Henderson.
Oxlade-Chamberlain could have been used in a number of these positions, but remained a substitute. His late cameos have been increasingly impressive, suggesting that he is getting used to the style of play Klopp speaks about, and with a Champions League game at home to Group E minnows Maribor coming just days after the Premier League game, it’s about time he got his start.
The pace, power, and dribbling ability in small spaces which his manger spoke of may be useful when it comes to breaking down a team who are likely to come to Anfield for a result rather than a win. They'll be playing for pride rather than a place in the next round or the Europa League, so there could be plenty of opportunity for him to get on the ball and test himself against the type of side which regularly turns up at Anfield.
If Klopp doesn't pick him for this game it would raise questions as to when his full debut in a meaningful competition will actually arrive. But should he start, and impress, the manager then has another option in attack which will make up for having a number of key players out injured.
His time at Liverpool will be interrupted again by another international break in the coming month, but given his performance for the national team lately it might benefit him to remain at Liverpool, train for two weeks, and then build his game back up to the levels required for next summer's World Cup.
Either way, he needs to be starting for his new club sooner rather than later if he wants to be on the plane for Russia, and also to justify the £35million spent on him this summer which could have been used elsewhere.