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Oxlade-Chamberlain looking to improve in numbers game

Liverpool's self-critical midfielder determined to reach further goals

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Photo: AFP via Getty

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Photo: AFP via Getty

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Photo: AFP via Getty

There is a continuous background riff during every conversation with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain about his career. "I want more," he says, incessantly dwelling on what he must improve more than the medal haul since his move from Arsenal to Liverpool in 2017.

It would be easy for Oxlade-Chamberlain to sound vindicated after he intuitively sensed two of England's premier clubs heading in different directions, but as he prepares to step up his latest comeback against West Brom today, his mood is far from self-congratulatory.

Although the 27-year-old is a valued contributor to the Anfield renaissance, injuries have too often cast him in a supporting role. And even during his most productive season on Merseyside last season, the midfielder's post-match critiques set him apart. Oxlade-Chamberlain would often speak disparagingly about his own performance despite a couple of goals or an assist.

"I have always been self-critical," he says. "I know when I am feeling good. That comes out in performance. I hate games which pass me by. Especially in this team. When I am in midfield I know my role so when I feel I do not do enough - running with the ball, creating, shooting, giving Mo (Salah), Sadio (Mane) and Bobby (Firmino) opportunities to score - I recognise it. That is where self-criticism comes from.

"I wanted more from myself for a lot of last season. I can look back on it and say 'eight goals - my most ever in a season, and fourth highest in the team'. But I was not happy with how I performed for the majority of it. I expect more from myself in certain areas at certain times. When I am not doing it I get frustrated.

"That is me holding myself to a certain standard to where I have been before and where I know I can get to again. In my first season, just before I was injured, I felt I was at my best where I was breaking lines, making opportunities for the boys whether they scored or not. That is what I want to do more consistently. There are things I know I can do."

Jürgen Klopp is Oxlade-Chamberlain's most vocal champion. The Liverpool manager saw last season as a step towards the midfielder's regeneration after his first lengthy lay-off following knee surgery in 2018 kept him out for a year. Oxlade-Chamberlain's subsequent exasperation stemmed from being unable to immediately and consistently find the level which preceded that devastating blow.

"In a sense, yeah, I was striving for that feeling," he says. "That was the first time in my career where I felt I had a role in a team. I had a few consistent games under my belt. Things were becoming natural. I had played years at a top club at Arsenal but never felt I had that.

"I guess it's the security of knowing and understanding your role and the confidence of the manager. That was coming out of me for that spell just until the (first) injury. When the weekend came I had a sense I would be playing and I knew why I was playing. And I knew what I could and would do.

"If Trent had the ball and Mo was coming inside, there was an automatic trigger about where to run, knowing Trent would find me. You run into space and the ball finds you. The manager was forcing me to find the spaces, to run, to dribble, to shoot. A strength of mine is shooting. We do a lot of shooting sessions in training. The manager knows I can shoot and shoot well. He encourages me to do it a lot in the right areas.

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"At other times in my career you might be looking to pass instead of shooting, worried about upsetting people. Fast-forward and last season was about coming back to where you were in a team that is now rapidly moving forward. You play like you are finding your feet a bit, helping the team while getting back to that level you want to. I see 43 games and eight goals, but I knew there was more in the tank and I have to do it more consistently.

"For a lot of last season, even though I had come back from a long injury, my main goal was to stay fit. As a player you just want to play the best you can. It was a good season in that I was fit and we won the league. Very special and unbelievable. But I want to do more. I want to play better."

Given all that, the most recent knee injury on the eve of this campaign was a debilitating fresh setback. Now Oxlade-Chamberlain is starting again after returning against Crystal Palace last weekend. Oxlade-Chamberlain is desperate to join the title defence, and clear how and where he can contribute.

"Every midfielder at the club brings something slightly different," he says. "Ever since I have been at Liverpool I think our midfield is our most talked about area in the sense it has been up for debate by people outside who plays in midfield with the boys rotated.

"It is a competitive area. It is something you accept and deal with it so when you get the chance you need to prove why you should be playing.

"Some bring more defensively, others are better supporting the forwards. That is the headache the manager has to have. Form and results go into that. Midfield in our team gets through most of the work rate and high intensity stuff.

"It is the engine room. If anything, that is the area where you've to have more options to rotate. The front three have been unbelievable. Not just as players but as athletes, showing how durable they are.

"When everyone is fit, managers tend to want a stable back four. So midfield is always the area where you need to be able to tweak without taking too much from how the team plays, and people can put a different three in there for different valid reasons for different games."

With the hectic schedule ongoing, Oxlade-Chamberlain hopes to showcase his specific qualities for the remainder of the campaign, particularly as an attacking force.

"It is about delivering numbers. In general, the goals I score, a lot of the time they are not easy goals," he says. "That is where I know I can take my game to another level. I want to be a more constant threat going forward."

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