Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Manchester City, many questions surround the signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal. Despite the qualities that the England international can bring to Jürgen Klopp’s squad, should he be judged as a player—signed for an inital £35 million—that has to raise Liverpool’s ceiling in midfield? It is universally agreed that Naby Keïta will do exactly that when he arrives next summer; however, Oxlade-Chamberlain's primary task is fitting into Liverpool’s exisitng tactical framework.
I wrote a lengthy scouting report on the furiously rapid Mohamed Salah—a player who was clearly mature and suitable enough for Klopp’s style of play. Even a noted weakness in the player not only revealed an area of development but also underlined a facet of his game that can be used to Liverpool’s advantage.
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and so, to fully appraise the qualities of Salah, his shortcomings must be duly examined. One of the problems with watching highlight videos is while they give a flavour of the player, there is much that cannot be a substitute for watching full games and following a player to some degree over a number of seasons.
Even so, compilation videos can provide an accurate picture of a player—especially in attack. That is the case with a player that the prolific Džeko is bound to miss dearly. What one will not see with Salah, however, is that he misses quite a lot of chances from good shooting zones. He gets into excellent positions, and although he's not a player with a grotesquely high volume of shots, he is busy in the penalty area. His shooting volume and positions are ideal for sustained output at a team preoccupied with playing on the front foot.
The 24-year-old is not just about speed and athleticism, but these qualities can be harnessed even with weaknesses in his game as we’ve seen with Salah. Oxlade-Chamberlain has good balance, agility, and feet that all enable him to bring the ball out of tight spaces and not get knocked over when an opposing player may try to use physical aggression to steal the ball. Combined with his technical ability and propensity for dribbling, this can be a potent weapon in breaking lines.
Moreover, for a counter pressing system, this physical quality will be extremely useful for Klopp in winning the ball back. Arsène Wenger does not train players to do this, but since Klopp took charge, leaning in with a shoulder aggressively while winning the ball and recalibrating to move away with speed is one of the key elements of his counter pressing game. Just watch Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana do this on a regular basis, and both were primed to be Klopp acolytes in this area with a history of admirable work-ethic on the pitch.
The Southampton youth product fits this mould, revealing a tangible and immediate benefit he can provide with his impressive athelticism. He can use his attitude and work ethic to successfully absorb instructions and apply lessons gained on the training field, which will be instrumental in proving to be a fine addition to Liverpool’s squad in the years ahead.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is by no means a perfect player or an immediate starter, but he isn’t a footballing impostor that can be dismissed as just fast. As Georginio Wijnaldum has done after being signed for a fee of £25 million from relegated Newcastle last summer, key contributions ultimately win the respect of the fans. In a counter pressing system that demands perspiration, Liverpool may have signed an ideal Klopp player in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.