Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provides answer to Jurgen Klopp's biggest criticism
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provides answer to Jurgen Klopp's biggest criticism as Reds take new direction
Paul Gorst gives his take on Liverpool's Champions League victory over Genk
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent
10:31, 24 OCT 2019
After the calamity and chaos of Liverpool's Champions League defence so far, this was a welcome return to a simpler time for Jurgen Klopp and his players. A time when underdogs were ruthlessly put to the sword with attacking potence.
Not since Maribor were taken apart 7-0 in their own backyard over two years ago have the Reds performed so convincingly away from Anfield in the group stages of the Champions League.
Here, they overcame a plucky Genk outfit to steer themselves towards another spot in the knockout stages of the tournament they are aiming to lift for a seventh time next year. Napoli's 3-2 win at Red Bull Salzburg keeps the Italians in control, but this win did a lot to strengthen Liverpool 's attempt to break out of Group E when it all lands in place in December.
Liverpool's away from in this competition under Klopp is directly at odds with their achievements of back-to-back finals. Last season, they were beaten in all three group games on the road, while the year previous, the lowly Maribor were the only victory picked up before the knockout stages.
Triumphs at Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Porto - twice - perhaps act as proof that there isn't something more meaningful amiss, but Klopp was keen to tell his players that their fortunes away from the comfortable confines of Anfield needed to be altered in Europe's premier competition this time around.
That warning came in the pre-match press conference to this game after the Reds kicked off their defence of the game's most prestigious club trophy with a miserable 2-0 reverse at Napoli last month.
This, then, was a good place to start to eradicate the trend of four successive defeats on their Champions League travels against a team many viewed as the whipping boys of Group E.
It was a warning his players took notice of as they swept aside the Belgians in impressive fashion, particularly during an excellent second half.
After the treacherous trip - both on and off the pitch - to Naples last month, this was a welcome visit for Klopp and his Liverpool side as the eminently likable patrons of Genk proved more than hospitable hosts.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with team-mate Sadio Mane after scoring his team;s first goal during the UEFA Champions League group E match between KRC Genk and Liverpool
Klopp excited plenty of supporters with his bold team selection of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita in his midfield three with enforcer Fabinho mopping up the problems on his 26th birthday.
For both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita, this represented a real chance to grasp the nettle and show their manager how big a role they can play in this season's festivities and both appeared to have a point to prove.
It was Oxlade-Chamberlain who struck first, rattling a daisy cutter into the bottom corner inside two minutes to begin the new chapter of his Champions League story in Liverpool red. It was this competition that brought his buccaneering form - arguably the best of his career - to a shuddering halt in April 2018.
His very career as a footballer was in jeopardy when a knee injury seized hold of a year of his life against Roma. Thankfully, that dark time is a distant memory for Oxlade-Chamberlain who reignited his Liverpool lifespan with two brilliant strikes that lit up the Luminus Arena.
Now, hopefully, these goals, performance and victory as a whole has given new direction to his fortunes in Europe's biggest club tournament. The same can apply for Keita, who was making his first start in the Champions League since pulling out of the semi-final in Barcelona on May 1.
Injury free and back in the Liverpool team, both Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain need to build on their exertions here.
Despite their territorial dominance and formation fluidity, Liverpool didn't have it all their own way in the first half and the Belgians thought they had equalised when Ally Samatta powered a header past Alisson. However, as seems to be the case when the Reds play these days, VAR reared its head .
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scores the first goal and celebrates of Liverpool during the UEFA Champions League group E match between KRC Genk and Liverpool FC at Luminus Arena on October 23, 2019 (Image: Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Official Slavko Vincic - after a lengthy discussion with his assistants - chalked the goal off for offside in the build up. After the video checks robbed the Reds of more than a point at Old Trafford, here it came to their aid to preserve the lead.
For all the creative flair and string pulling Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita provide, however, there was a lack of control to Liverpool's engine room and Genk were able to cut through the Reds' screen in the middle of the park far too easily with their direct passing at times.
It is difficult to envision a scenario where Klopp keeps both in his midfield for Sunday's visit from Tottenham, you feel, despite the cut and thrust they offer that simply isn't there when the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner are picked for battle.
On this evidence, though, Klopp would be a brave man to leave Oxlade-Chamberlain when a beleaguered Spurs visit this weekend.
At times, it was tough to know what formation Klopp had told his players to line up in as they routinely switched and swapped. Virgil van Dijk became a No.10 for a few moments while Dejan Lovren's mazy run temporarily had him playing as a right-winger.
Total football? Not exactly. It was disjointed. However, for all the grumbles about shape and control, Liverpool's second was a work of art from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
With the ball laid off to him on the edge of the box, the former Arsenal star played a simply gorgeous flick with the outside of his boot before seeing it clip in off the underside of the crossbar.
At a time when the biggest criticism of Klopp's entire squad is their lack of genuine goal threat from midfield, this from Oxlade-Chamberlain was a timely reminder of just what he can bring when fit, firing and on song.
How the England international must love this competition. Four of his seven Liverpool goals have come in the Champions League as he added to strikes against Maribor and Manchester City with this beautiful brace.
The second goal appeared to take the spring out of Genk's step and the Reds made the game secure with just under 15 minutes left when Sadio Mane supplied the finishing touch on a sweeping counter-attack for his seventh of the campaign.
Salah then went level with his team-mate after wriggling free of a couple of challenges before converting with his right foot. It was out of sync with much of what went before from the Egyptian but it was superbly taken.
Genk immediately pulled one back through Stephen Odey in the final moments, but the job was done for the Reds who shook off their run of form on their travels to give their chances of another qualification to the knockout stages a big boost.
Six points from nine in Group E, they sit second with rock-bottom Genk to visit Anfield next. It is shaping up nicely for Klopp and his players.
© 2019 a Reach plc subsidiary