Ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League Round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich, a familiar face joined the rest of the squad for light training. Of course, I’m referring to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who appears to be nearing the end of his year-long injury spell (knock on all the wood).
The injury was devastating for fans, the team, and of course the player himself. After years of stagnation at Arsenal, and a somewhat lengthy transition to Jurgen Klopp’s playing style, Ox came on in leaps and bounds in the second half of the campaign. The player added crucial dynamism to the midfield by breaking the lines and joining in on the attack, and he chipped in with some memorable goals along the way, including a couple of stunners against Manchester City.
And, from all accounts, Ox is just a good lad to have around the dressing room. Needless to say his teammates were glad to see him back on the pitch, but you don’t have to take my word for it, it’s coming straight from the captain.
“It was obviously a massive moment for everyone but [especially] for him to be back from a bad injury,” Jordan Henderson explained to the club’s official website. “He has been out for a while now and I’m sure he’s been thinking about that moment for a long time.
“It was great to have him back. He is a great character around the lads and he is obviously a fantastic player, so to have him back within the squad was a big plus for us.
“Hopefully over the next few weeks he can keep progressing and build his fitness up. Who knows, hopefully he can get some minutes before the end of the season – that would be a huge boost for the team.”
Everyone is itching to see Ox back on the pitch (I imagine the scenes at Anfield when his name is announced will be something special), but Kloppo and the physio staff are not rushing him back.
“The manager will be [careful] – he is with players who have been out for a long time, he knows how difficult it is to come back.
“But Ox has looked good in training and I’m sure over the next few weeks, as he builds fitness, the manager will keep a close eye on him because he is an important player, a fantastic player for this team.
“To have him back before the end of the season would be a massive boost.”
There would be something fitting about Ox finishing this season after missing the end of last season (including the Champions League final). And as legs across the league—including our own—begin to tire, he could prove a useful player, even if it is merely to provide 20 or 30 minutes here and there in matches.
It’s good for all of us to temper expectations. Ox still probably has a long way to go to get back to the heights from last season (if it is even possible after such a devastating injury). But having him back is at least a psychological boost for the player, squad, and everyone in Liverpool Country.