After an uneven start to the season following a year’s rehabilitation from a brutal ACL injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is starting to find his groove with four goals in his last four appearances in all competitions. The improvement in form has earned the ex-Arsenal man his second call up of the season to the England national team for the upcoming international matchups against Montenegro and Kosovo.
While the 26-year-old’s goal-scoring appearances so far may have come against the bottom side of Liverpool’s Champions League in Genk and a squad of Arsenal youngsters, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s rediscovery of his shooting boots represents a selection headache for Jürgen Klopp when Liverpool welcome title contenders Man City to Anfield this Sunday in an epic top of the table clash.
The XI who take the pitch will of course be crucial. While the attack and defense select themselves with the assistance of Captain Obvious and fitness, it is rather in center of the park where the selection questions lie.
Fabinho is the no brainer at the base of midfield, with the Brazilian saved for this match in particular after having been benched last week against Aston Villa when in danger of suspension through yellow card accumulation.
Further up the pitch, while Naby Keïta played well in midweek against Genk, he has nevertheless been too inconsistent in another stop-start campaign thus far to be trusted on such a big occasion. One can assume that Klopp will go with one of Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson in that “shuttler” role in the engine room.
That final midfield spot is a curious one. While Klopp has gone with a trio of Henderson, Wijnaldum and Fabinho in virtually every big game this season (including the last time these two sides met in the season-opening Community Shield), the tactical choice could be to pick the goal-scoring threat of Oxlade-Chamberlain against a particularly vulnerable City squad.
The XI Guardiola will field on Sunday might be set up to suit the Liverpool midfielder’s talents. With their defensive linchpin in Aymeric Laporte and starting left back Aleks Zinchenko ruled out due to long term injury, third choice center half Nicolas Otamendi unavailable, and key holding midfield signing Rodri and goalkeeper Ederson both likely missing due to a knocks picked up in midweek, it is possible that City will field a central defensive pair of Fernandinho and John Stones as well as a midfield lacking in the defensive nous required to thwart an eager Liverpool attack.
The goal threat the Reds no. 15 poses when in form has been apparent in the fixtures between these two sides, with the midfield dynamo having scored two wonder strikes in three appearances against the reining Premier League champions.
That said, the repercussions of the result might force Klopp’s hand with the Reds six point lead over their rivals meaning that a draw suits Liverpool more than City, while a loss to the chasing Citizens would be devastating. The German manager might therefore favor the control the selection of his big game midfield provides him regardless of the dearth of ball progression and creativity the trio provide in the center of the park.
On the other hand, a start for the Ox is a swing for the fences, a shot at a statement win with the potential to demoralize their rival club even this early in the campaign and take away City’s head-to-head route back into the title race.
Here’s to a heavy metal Sunday.