Oxlade-Chamberlain Eyeing Number 9 Role for Upcoming Season
Jurgen Klopp’s men returned from their break to kick off their pre-season with consecutive 1-1 draws in a match that epitomised the well known phrase, ‘A game of two halves’.
In reality, the pre-season workout was a case of two halves, two games, as the Reds faced Austrian side FC Wacker Innsbruck in the first half, followed by German outfit Stuttgart. In the second.
Liverpool themselves fielded completely different lineups in each half, with the second half seeing a much stronger lineup than that which faced the Austrian minnows.
Within that second half lineup was a surprise selection which threw most Liverpool fans off, much like the 30 minute per half format.
With Roberto Firmino and his Brazilian compatriots still on a well deserved break after reaching the Copa America final and both Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino being fielded in the first half, number 9’s were light on the ground.
The team lineup suggested that Mohammed Salah would play through the middle, a role he has played with aplomb many a time before, but it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was given the opportunity to fill the gap between Sadio Mane and Salah in the front three.
Pre-season matches can often provide a new lease of life to players previously considered on the fringe of the squad, and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s energetic 30 minute run out suggested he had benefited from the break and was fully capitalising on a solid pre-season.
But is he a number 9?
It has long been debated by fans from the Emirates to Anfield about what the Ox’s most effective position is on the football pitch.
He broke through at Southampton as a youngster playing on the wing, almost Theo Walcott-esque in his attributes - pace, trickery and an eye for goal.
His early days at Arsenal, as well as his selections at international level, also suggested that he was destined for a career as a winger.
But the Kop favourite has repeated many times that his preferred position was central midfield, with Oxlade-Chamberlain citing the desire to play in his preferred position as the reason for his move from Arsenal to Liverpool.
“I feel a lot of my best performances for Arsenal came in midfield but I never played consistently in that position.” expressed the former Arsenal man in April 2020 when talking to Ian Wright about his move up north.
“I just didn’t believe I was going to be able to play where I wanted to play and that was it.”
By in large, most of Oxlade-Chamberlain's games under Klopp have been played in his preferred position of central midfield and when fit and in-form, he has put in some memorable performances in the Red shirt of Liverpool.
But it seems that the Ox’s evolution as a player is set to take another turn, with the player’s performance in the false number 9 role during the second 30 minute match in Austria on Tuesday evening, providing plenty of food for thought for the Reds boss.
It is not the first time that he has been utilised in this position since his move to Anfield, with the versatile player taking up this role a couple of times last season.
West Ham away he came off the bench and put in an impressive performance that the manager was happy to highlight
“He came on in the same position and did really well there. Ox is obviously a versatile player, definitely more offensively orientated. And that’s a very offensive position for him with the speed, the technique, the moves, the turns, the acceleration he is able to do. It’s a good position for him.” Enthused the Reds boss.
So could the false number 9 role be a position that Oxlade-Chamberlain is deployed in more often in the coming season?
It has definitely been a position on the pitch that Klopp has found difficult to find alternative solutions for when seeking to replace Firmino mid-game.
Orgi has failed to produce the form consistently that had made him a cult hero after scoring some vitally important goals for the club.
And Minamino is yet to reproduce his RedBull Salzburg form in a Liverpool shirt, which resulted in the Japanese international being sent out on loan to Southampton for the second half of last season.
The Ox however definitely brings a different dimension to what the Brazilian forward can offer.
Pace in behind a back line, a natural tendency to come from deep due to his attacking tendencies from a midfield position and an eye for goal that he has shown a few times in a Liverpool shirt.
This change in position, could also see more game time afforded to him as the central midfield area is fairly well stacked with the likes of Thiago, Fabino, Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson (should the Liverpool captain remain at the club after the transfer window closes) are all currently ahead of him in the pecking order.
Also, with the club seemingly reluctant to spend big on reinforcements this summer, it could be a solution that provides club and player with a mutually beneficial outcome.
And it’s clearly a role that Oxlade-Chamberlain himself believes that he is well suited too.
The Liverpool midfielder, when speaking to LFCTV stated “The way that role is played, it’s almost similar to a No.10, attacking-midfield role because you drop quite deep so in that sense I find it quite natural.
"I feel like I can run in behind from there as well and get in and around the box, and you get opportunities to shoot and score.”
Backroom staff at the club are said to have been very impressed by the Ox’s application and sharpness during pre season training, with the suggestion that they could use him as a back-up to Salah and Mane, in the wide positions.
The ex-Arsenal man’s performance against Stuttgart in midweek showed there is plenty to work with in the central position too.
And it’s clearly a challenge he is relishing with the Ox firing a pre-season friendly warning shot at the man that currently holds the false number 9 throne at the club - “Bobby, be careful.”