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 By Steven Kelly

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starting to thrive after slow start at Liverpool

Liverpool got themselves back on track and into the top four again with a fine 4-0 win at Bournemouth.

Many will be tempted to say only Bournemouth, just as it was only Maribor and only Spartak in previous weeks. Few teams take Eddie Howe's side apart and Liverpool should get credit for it.

Again you could tell which Liverpool had turned up within 30 minutes; two goals up, it could've been more. That may be something for Jurgen Klopp to focus on, as recent opponents Everton and West Brom clearly did. Qualms about how Liverpool perform in the tighter games will remain.

One factor certainly helped on the south coast; the side was more balanced. The continuous social media furore over Jordan Henderson's suitability is irksome to those who recognise his importance to the team.

From the start on Sunday, Liverpool looked more aggressive and busier, their captain clearly at the heart of it. You can question how often that happens, but there's little doubt he's more suited to the job than either Emre Can or Georginio Wijnaldum.

Perhaps team selection came to his rescue, as Klopp chose to start Phillippe Coutinho in one of the attacking roles thus selecting three hard-working central midfielders in Henderson, Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It feels like the ideal way to utilise the Brazilian's many skills, capped by a brilliant opening goal. Klopp's concern for the lack of creativity in an otherwise "ordinary" midfield is understandable, hence the temptation to push Coutinho back.

Klopp might have been tempted to treat Bournemouth lightly since they were 16th in the table, but Sunday's selection made sure there was hard work and sublime skill in equal measure. Balance was essential.

Oxlade-Chamberlain may not have been the best player but his was certainly the most intriguing performance. Having left a big club like Arsenal for more chances in a role he'd prefer, it was looking like he'd go the way of James Milner.

Milner left Manchester City for regular football and a chance to play in the centre too but ended up playing his most important football for Liverpool in the peculiar role of left-back. Oxlade-Chamberlain had endured an underwhelming start at Anfield, usually filling in for one of Liverpool's flying wingers Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane.

Against Everton he did a reasonable job in the centre despite the 1-1 draw, and was given another chance at Bournemouth where he was impressive. One tackle, charge forward and shot against the post was excellent all-round play.

There seems more to his game going forward than the other competitors for the role. Some may point at Can's goals and occasional forays forward but his summer 2018 departure will surely be one of the smallest surprises in football.

When has anyone ever run their contract down then stayed at the same club? It's vital that Klopp tries to utilise the squad, but especially those players who are staying put.

Adam Lallana's return to fitness is also good news, so Klopp now has options and more importantly competition for places.

At times against West Brom, Can and Wijnaldum gave the impression they didn't need to get out of first gear and it hurt the team immeasurably.

Could Oxlade-Chamberlain even solve the problem of who can replace Roberto Firmino when the Brazilian needs a break? He's quick, aggressive, unselfish and wasn't far from scoring himself against Bournemouth. It's another option for Klopp to ponder.

Joshua King
Liverpool moved back into fourth with a comprehensive win on the South Coast.

His temptation to use all four attacking stars simultaneously could be reined in for now, even if he thinks the opposition aren't interested in coming forward. Bournemouth certainly weren't as negative as Everton or West Brom, so they did play into Liverpool's hands quite a bit.

Any January spending should focus on the defence, since Klopp has many options in attack and midfield.

A midfield three of Henderson, Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain has the required work rate and guile while Liverpool's goal-scoring threat hardly needs emphasising.

True, Jermain Defoe did hit the post at 2-0. Going into half time at 2-1 would have been daunting given Liverpool's previous struggles.

They can still be too open whenever games ought to be slowed or even shut down. No one really cares when they play like they did on Sunday, but they need better game management in closer games.

The risks and adventure are what's making Liverpool a threat to almost everyone right now, so it's understandable any dilution of that adventure is frowned upon by the manager.

Previous doubts expressed about the purchase of Oxlade-Chamberlain now look silly, in the light of concrete proof of what he can bring to the team. His TV interview alongside Coutinho also endeared him to the previously sceptic.

Character, work rate, a goal threat; the England man supplied all that on Sunday. Bigger tests are to come obviously, especially this week at Arsenal, but now a clearer future role has emerged he can become an important part of the squad after months of misgivings.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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