Liverpool finally made their return to Premier League action following the seasonal pause for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, defeating Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park in an enthralling encounter.
Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds blitzed into a two-goal lead, courtesy of efforts from Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk, before the break, before a lapse in focus lifted the pedal off the gas and allowed the home side to surge forwards like a high-tide on a blustery day, with Ollie Watkins scoring a deft header after scoring a narrowly offside strike moments into the second-half.
Despite a tumultuous spell that drew into the closing stages, Liverpool’s cutting edge shone through, and the 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic burst into the box moments after entering the field to latch onto a Darwin Nunez cutback and squirm into space, unleashing a rolling strike to seal a priceless victory.
Nunez was certainly not at his clinical best, and despite a lively performance failed to grasp any of the six direct goalscoring opportunities that he fired at the opposing net, but his influence was still paramount for his side’s success, stretching the backline and weaving his way into openings.
Some will lament his failure to add to his nine strikes this term, but it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who truly failed to make use of a valuable opportunity to flourish.
As per Sofascore, Oxlade-Chamberlain produced a meagre rating of 6.1, deputising down the offensive left flank in the absence of the likes of Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Bobby Firmino – the three most likely candidates to occupy the role in a fully-fit Liverpool squad.
Would you extend Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contract?
Indeed, Oxlade-Chamberlain has only found inclusion from the starting fold on one occasion – in the Carabao Cup against Derby County – and desperately needed to impress at Villa Park, especially with Firmino’s injury considered to be a fleeting concern.
It was not to be, and while the 29-year-old exhibited a level of tenacity and drive that will have pleased Klopp, his inability to make a positive impact of any substance does not bode well for his future opportunities, with his contract set for expiry at the end of the current campaign.
The “woeful” – as lamented by Atul Kasbekar – £120k-per-week ace failed with all four of his attempted dribbles, while only completing 11 of his 18 passes and winning one of his eight ground duels.
He did offer one key pass, playing a ball in a swift transition that the aforementioned Nunez failed to convert, but one moment of quality does not detract from the failure to succeed across the other avenues of the pitch.
And his extensive injury record hardly bolsters his claims for a contractual renewal; candidly, he will need to produce a sustained string of dazzling displays if he is to sway the winds in his favour and continue to ply his trade at Liverpool after moving to Merseyside from Arsenal in a £35m deal in 2017.
Where he does indeed manage to stake his claim remains up in the air, but based on a Boxing Day performance that leaves little to be admired, he will need to swing a few more punches, with a bit more conviction, next time out.