Life can be cruel at times. An 18-year-old Liverpool fan living the dream, Harvey Elliott was starring in the first team quite supremely at the start of this campaign before his world came crushing down at Leeds.
Yet one player’s agony is another’s opportunity.
Juxtaposed against last season’s squad crisis, where injury after injury curtailed his lofty ambitions, Jurgen Klopp has a bereft of riches to pick from currently, not least in midfield where Elliott was operating so impressively.
Harvey Elliott’s injury against Leeds was cruel but does provide opportunities in the squad
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will give chances to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita
At the base, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson had – aside from five bizarre minutes at the end of the first half – matters completely under control against AC Milan, with Thiago Alcantara and even James Milner more than capable deputies when required.
Further ahead though, a clear candidate for the third midfield berth is less clear.
Back at the beginning of Klopp’s ‘golden period’ in charge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was an integral piece to the jigsaw, thriving in a central role in his first season after his £35million move from Arsenal.
A cruel ACL injury in a Champions League semi-final stunted his progress – his form has since fluctuated, with promising signs of a revival closely followed by a niggle here and there.
Intense competition for places too has not made the England international’s case for starting any easier. He appeared 30 times in the Premier League during the title-winning season, but managed just 17 starts.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ACL injury in 2018 stunted progress and has struggled for consistency
The 28-year-old does provide a genuine goal threat from midfield unlike others in his position
Last season, he missed the first four months due to a knee injury picked up in pre-season and from there was never given a consistent run in the team, with minutes on the pitch coming from late flurries as a substitute.
But with a full pre-season under his belt, the ex-Arsenal man is a leading candidate to start now. His raw pace and explosive power breaking from midfield is a string to his bow which others in the squad don’t possess. What’s more, on those odd occasions where the front-three aren’t firing, he’s got a goal in him.
Now 28, The Ox should be in his prime. This, right here right now, is a big opportunity to step up to the task.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s explosiveness from midfield is an asset no one else can match
A similar tale can be told of Naby Keita, who started Liverpool’s first two matches of the season and played under the Anfield lights against Milan.
LIVERPOOL’S MIDFIELD TRIO
Goals: 7/GPG: 11.4
The Guinean, who unsurprisingly didn’t feature against Leeds after having to escape his homeland following a Coup d’etat, has never quite hit the heights anticipated following a £54m move in 2018.
His injury record since arriving on Merseyside reads as follows: Groin, muscle strain, groin, angina, Covid-19, hamstring, ankle.
He has scored just seven goals in a little over three seasons – and only four assists to go alongside that.
On the ball, in-game, it is easy to see why he has still not lost Klopp’s faith.
The 26-year-old’s first-touch is exquisite and his guile and craft on the ball means he makes tricky forward movements look effortless.
Aesthetically pleasing for sure. But in this quickfire all-action Liverpool side, there are times where Keita’s individual qualities can come at the expense of the overall. Nonetheless, he will doubtless get ample time now, provided he avoids the treatment table.
Klopp was full of praise for the pair when asked about their involvement this season: ‘It’s all about being available and using the momentum, that’s football.
‘It doesn’t make you a worse player. Without luck in life, you are really on the wrong side of a lot of things.
‘When you get injured, the football train never waits. We have to be on top of that and to try keep them in the best possible shape.
‘The quality of the players was never in doubt, come on. If you think about these players and you go through the strengths they have, you could have a book on its own.’
Naby Keita has not hit the heights promised after his £54m move – but now is his chance
Yet of all the central midfielders available to Klopp, Curtis Jones is the one who gets the locals excited, a beaming light from the club’s academy.
Still only 20, last season felt like a missed opportunity. Riding a wave of momentum from the Covid-impacted conclusion of the title-winning season, he made 34 appearances last season in all competitions.
The results? Four goals (two in the EFL Cup) and five assists.
While Elliott played regularly out on loan at Blackburn, Jones struggled in a Reds side devoid of confidence at the beginning of 2021. It was also a time where he lost his rag with the England Under 21s in a European Championships to forget.
His 71st-minute arrival against Milan on Wednesday was his first involvement this season and it showed, with initial bursts of energy and panache concluding with a mistimed pass, as a fourth goal escaped the home side.
Curtis Jones played regularly under Klopp last season but endured a tough start to 2021
Jones lost his rag after England were knocked out of the Under 21 European Championships
Now though, Jones can be the youngster full of hope and promise again. His wonder-strike in January 2020 in the Merseyside Derby feels a long time ago now but he will come again, with a starting berth likely in the Carabao Cup tie at Norwich next week.
Klopp is likely to rotate, with three competitions to manage until the New Year. Match-winning captain Henderson too can also play further up the pitch when required.
Opportunities will come for all three. While Georginio Wijnaldum left in the summer, no replacement was brought in as Klopp – some may say stubbornly – insisted he was happy with his options.
Now, those options have to prove to their manager why they should seize a starting spot.
For Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita in particular, vying to impact matches at the highest level again, this is the opening they’ve been waiting for – they should be chomping at the bit.