After sustaining serious knee ligament damage approximately 10 and half months ago, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be taking a determined step towards making his first-team return.
The Ox is set to make an appearance for Neil Critchley’s under-23s when they face off against Derby County at the Rams’ Training Centre on Friday. Prior to the damaging knee injury he sustained during the Champions League fixture against AS Roma at Anfield in April last year, Ox had become a driving force within the Liverpool midfield and an integral member of the first team after a period of settling in following his summer transfer on the final day of the window in 2017 from Arsenal.
Liverpool confirmed on 18 July 2018 that the 25 year old would miss the rest of the season and that the focus for Ox would be on rehab and recovery with Jürgen Klopp indicating on 28 December 2018, that the midfielder was ahead of schedule in terms of his rehabilitation, and that should he make further steps in the mould of what he had been doing, he may very well be able to feature in this season’s fixtures.
The importance of match time
On Thursday Klopp confirmed that Ox would be involved in the under-23s fixture and that the plan was to give him some match time, indicating that Ox had looked good in training sessions thus far. Speaking with the official Liverpool website, Klopp said:
All that we saw so far in training looks really good, it looks really exciting, but we all know it is a massive difference between each training session you have and playing a proper game. It’s not about the opponent, it’s about judging situations, a bigger pitch, higher intensity, a different concentration level. The preparation for a match is different to a normal training session, so players after a long period [out] need to get used to that. There is absolutely no expectation on the game [for him] apart from go through it, tick that box, come back and go on training again. It doesn’t say anything about him ‘being ready for five days later’ or whatever, it is just a first – and very, very important – step. As I said, in training Ox is back but now we have to make sure we really prepare him for the rest of his career and the rest of this season.
Klopp however, was adamant that Ox was not likely to feature any time before the next international break, indicating that the journey back to the first team would still be a while, saying, “The intensity cannot be that high or you kill a player then. He needs matches and as many as possible, but we are in the middle of the season and will not say now, ‘You need six or seven matches until you are ready…” and continued, “As long as all the other players are fit and stuff like that, we will have to see who can help the team more when he is finally back. In the moment, he looks brilliant, everything is really, really good. Now let’s play football. What people make of that, he should not care. I don’t care if people then say, ‘Why is he not playing?’ and stuff like that… Let’s see how he reacts, how he feels and all that stuff. But it is not in the plans, there is nothing to think about before the international break, but this game.”
The importance of first-team training
Ox re-joined the first team training sessions in February when the squad were in Marbella and Daniel Sturridge has been delighted to have his friend back and said as much on LFC Later on LFCTV:
He’s been missed. I love that guy! He’s been through a big injury, which is difficult to return from. But it’s his dedication, his hard work that he has put in on the training pitch. The banter he brings to the boys, to the group, the lads, I love being around him, so it’s great to see him back out there and to see him so sharp as well. He’s been really sharp out there and he doesn’t seem as though he has been injured. It’s great to have him back.
The importance of our support
We as the Liverpool collective should not put too much pressure on Ox to return to the first team nor should we view him as the saviour we need during this time.
He has indeed been missed; but our mighty Reds who have been playing week in, week out are more than capable of doing the work and getting us over the line to that elusive title we have all been waiting for. We just need to get behind the team and let them do their job, which is to play football while we watch, enjoy, and leave the footballing and the decisions that drive it to the professionals. It’s the best thing we could possibly do.
Up the Mighty Reds!
Be sure to catch Ox back in action for the Liverpool under-23s against Derby County which will be live on LFC TV on Friday at 1:30PM GMT / 8:30AM EST. Alternatively you can catch the highlights as well as LFC Later on LFC TV Go. To subscribe to the service, click here.