Jurgen Klopp showed he is still counting on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain by putting him in the engine room for Atletico clash... the injury-hit Liverpool midfielder needs to build on this after lasting 90 minutes just TWICE in 76 matches

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‘This situation is not always easy for all the boys not only Ox… Am I counting on him for next season? Yes.’ Jurgen Klopp, May 7; 2021.

Liverpool’s manager looked down the barrel of a TV camera as he said those words; he spoke clearly and his message was emphatic. At a time when doubts swirled about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future on Merseyside, they were not shared by the man whose opinion matters most.

Six months on from that statement, though, and the uncertainty continues over what role this midfielder will have at Anfield in the long-term, his display against Brighton last Saturday reigniting the debate. It wasn’t, to put it bluntly, a good day and Klopp didn’t try to argue otherwise.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a pivotal role as Liverpool set about Atletico Madrid

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a pivotal role as Liverpool set about Atletico Madrid

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a pivotal role as Liverpool set about Atletico Madrid

‘He set up the second goal with a nice cross and that was it,’ was Klopp’s blunt verdict. ‘He can play better football.’

Other managers, perhaps, would have had that underwhelming cameo in their mind when picking their next team but Klopp is not someone who allows his thoughts to be prejudiced and if Oxlade-Chamberlain needed a lift, it arrived an hour before kick-off. Here was a rare start.

And rare is the right word for 2021. There were two in January, against Southampton and Burnley. The next one did not arrive until August, at Carrow Road on the opening day, while the only other starts were in the EFL Cup against Norwich and Preston.

Delve a little deeper into Oxlade-Chamberlain’s playing time, however, and something even more remarkable emerges – he has only 90 minutes twice, in his last 76 appearances for club and country, dating back to April 2018.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had a point to prove amid doubts over his long-term future at Anfield

Oxlade-Chamberlain had a point to prove amid doubts over his long-term future at Anfield

Yes, you read that correctly. Norwich in the EFL Cup on September 21 and before that Monterrey, in the Club World Cup semi-final, in Doha on December 18, 2019. No wonder, then, there was so much riding on this collision with Atletico Madrid for the former Arsenal man.

Few would dispute he deserves a change of fortune. There was a point not long after Philippe Coutinho had been sold to Barcelona in January 2018 that he looked ready to take over the Brazilian’s mantle, slamming in vital goals against Manchester City in front of The Kop.

They love him in the dressing room and the day it emerged he had suffered a knee injury in the Champions League semi-final against Roma that effectively changed the course of his Liverpool career was one of the bleakest at Melwood of Klopp’s reign.

But he is not a man to feel sorry for himself or go into his shell, so Saturday’s runout, when he replaced the hamstrung Naby Keita, was never going to prey on his mind. He is a confident young man and that was evident in his start.

There was a rollicking and a hug from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on Wednesday night

There was a rollicking and a hug from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on Wednesday night

A scampering run down the left in the 16th minute had Klopp beating his hands together enthusiastically; an instinctive 23rd minute shot from a Mo Salah lay off was dragged just off target, while a 26th minute header was crucially in taking danger away from Angel Correa.

Was it perfect? No. There were groans from different quarters when he surrendered possession too easily and a rollicking from Klopp in the 67th minute when his lax pass allowed Atletico to launch an attack.

The best sight of all, nonetheless, was when he got up shortly after to carry on, having looked to have suffered another injury. He was able to carry on and while his night ended prematurely shortly after, he left the field to a standing ovation in recognition of his determined efforts.

He need all this, the minutes in an important game and the appreciation from the public. He also needs to push on from here. Klopp, as he stated so forcefully, is counting on him. 

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