Back in September, after Liverpool had raised the bar on eyebrows in buying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a Sunday Times columnist provided a perfect description for his career up until that point – ‘premium mediocre’.
The phrase, pinched from a website interested in philosophy rather than the abilities of Premier League footballers, captures the essence of sugar-coated mundanity. Run-of-the-mill products in glossy packaging. Extra leg-room in economy class was one example, or fast-track seating on a low budget airline.
In sporting terms perhaps the next installation of the Caribbean Premier League, which has all the razzmatazz of the IPL but nevertheless does not quite capture the imagination.
For £35m, Liverpool bought themselves a true premium, top-of-the-range player in Mohamed Salah. But shelling out roughly the same amount for Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed overblown. If Salah was like buying an iPhone X, the purchase of Oxlade-Chamberlain was akin to the iPhone 8 with the extra gigabytes.
The Englishman had a premium mediocre career in a side like Arsenal, the Barcelona-lite of premium mediocre teams.
He was fairly pacy, tackled when needed, played in a few positions, won some England caps, scored goals that suggested quality but were too infrequent to ever prove genuine. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about him was how unremarkable he was. Thierry Henry said it best when he quipped, ‘OK, Alex, what exactly are you good at?’
Jurgen Klopp insists Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is world class. Mohamed Salah was also given special praise by the Liverpool boss. pic.twitter.com/WoF7FA3ke4— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 4, 2018
The very mention of ‘premium’ however, suggests the talent was there, and Jurgen Klopp has evidently found a way to access those extra gigabytes.
Deployed as a central midfielder, the 24-year-old is doing a little bit of everything for Liverpool – and that whole is more than the sum of his parts.
Against Newcastle on Saturday he nominally played centrally – and was in the thick of it when he set up Salah’s opener – but popped up on the left, right and virtually every sector up and down the pitch.
With Klopp’s gegenpressing imprinted in his brain, he is running more and reacting more, as opposed to the pretty passivity that been nurtured by Arsene Wenger for well over a decade now at Arsenal.
When he was at the Emirates, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain used to stroll about the pitch like Arsenal’s players did today. He now puts in the graft needed as Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t pick him if he didn’t. Clear that Arsenal’s issues stem from Arsene Wenger.— Ste Hoare (@stehoare) February 25, 2018
Credit must also go to Oxlade-Chamberlain, too. He refused to move to Chelsea because of Antonio Conte’s plans to make him a wing-back and reiterated his desire to become a full-time central midfielder, even though he looked lost when playing there for the Gunners before his switch.
Even Klopp had imagined him as strictly a wideman by trade but instead Oxlade-Chamberlain dug his heels in – and that’s not a quality many premium mediocre people have, particularly in a world of bland and uncharismatic footballers.
He is likely to star again under the historic Anfield lights on Tuesday, in a round-of-16 tie in which Liverpool are already five goals up – a premium mediocre Champions League night if there ever was one. But Oxlade-Chamberlain is proving he is a man for a greater occasion.
To say Neymar‘s injury is a blow for Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the second leg of their Champions League tie against Real Madrid is an understatement. The Brazilian star has been the team’s talisman this season, and PSG’s chances of overturning a 3-1 deficit have no doubt dropped with his absence.
But PSG players are understandably miffed at the suggestion that they can’t achieve the turnaround without Neymar, and even questions about his injury are becoming to become frustrating for his teammates.
Neymar again!” defender Presnel Kimpembe said when asked about the attacker by Le Parisien. “Neymar here, Neymar there, Neymar everywhere! I don’t know what to say.
“If he doesn’t play then he doesn’t play. The coach will call on other players. This hurts us, we know he’s an important player for the team. We are upset, we will try and qualify for him, but the team comes first.”
Kimpembe also admitted that it may have been a lack of experience that cost the Ligue 1 club in Madrid, although he bristled at suggestions that the team’s poor finishing is what’s led to a two-goal deficit.
“Maybe it was a lack of experience but I wouldn’t say it was a lack of accuracy. In any case, we have the second leg to go. We will have time to talk about that.”
Zinedine Zidane has warned his Real Madrid players there is no room for complacency despite Neymar’s absence from next week’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.
Neymar is to undergo surgery on a foot injury and will miss the last-16 decider at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, where Real hold a 3-1 advantage from the first leg.
Without the Brazilian, PSG’s chances of a comeback appear to be significantly reduced, although the in-form Angel di Maria should fill the void. The Argentinian scored twice in a 3-0 win over Marseille on Wednesday.
“We feel sorry for Neymar but they are a very strong team and the player that is going to replace him will be very strong,” Zidane said on Friday.
“We are going to play a European Cup match, a return match, where we will have to give 2000 per cent.
“Whether there is one player or another, the player who plays will be prepared, they will want to prove themselves.”
Real are at home to 10th-placed Getafe on Saturday as Los Blancos look to regain momentum following Tuesday’s surprise defeat to Espanyol.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who play each other on Sunday, sit 15 and 10 points clear of Real respectively, but Zidane claims he will not give up in the league.
“It’s going to be complicated, but not impossible,” Zidane said.
“Look what is happening between the first and the second, there are five points now. Did you expect it? If Atletico beat Barcelona, it is two points, did you expect that?
“The league is alive and I am optimistic, always, until the end.”
Marcelo trained on Friday and is available to face Getafe but Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are still recovering from thigh and knee injuries respectively.
Zidane refused to offer any indication whether the pair will be fit to face PSG.
Provided by AFP