Liverpool are well known for their attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino but the work of the midfield behind them often goes unrecognized. For the first half of the 2017/18 campaign, Liverpool played with a midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and one of either Emre Can, James Milner or Georginio Wijnaldum. When Coutinho left for Barcelona, Liverpool lost their only “No. 10” and are yet to sign a direct replacement. However, the recent acquisition of Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke has given Liverpool a creative playmaker to depend on which may be key for their upcoming season.
Philippe Coutinho’s Liverpool departure in January earlier this year left a big hole in Liverpool’s midfield. The Brazilian, who transferred to Barcelona for £146 million, played a pivotal role in a midfield three at the Merseyside club. His creative instincts and playmaking abilities were a huge part of Liverpool’s dynamic attacking force. However, Liverpool chose not to sign a direct replacement for Coutinho in January and instead opted to invest in other areas of the field, namely Virgil van Dijk for £75 million. Coutinho’s role in the team should not just be seen as being a very good player that can score long shots and provide assists. He was very important in breaking down deep defensive blocks and unlocking a path to the goal. He linked up with the front three naturally and those four were ruthless in the Champions League group stage.
In the second half of the season, Liverpool surprisingly played better without Coutinho whether that was coincidence or not. They had a better defensive record, had brilliant results in the Champions League and in the Premier League. Coutinho’s presence was not entirely missed. However, Liverpool still had one big problem and that was finding a way to get past teams who set up very defensively because they were afraid of letting Salah or Mane get in behind.
Jurgen Klopp was reportedly interested in a number of options to fill the Coutinho void with Thomas Lemar, Marco Asensio, and Nabil Fekir all emerging as likely candidates. It was the latter that Klopp chose to go with but following complications with the transfer arrangements and medical details, the move was called off at the last second. Klopp reacted by sending Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s Sporting Director, down to Stoke to discuss the availability of their talisman, Xherdan Shaqiri who reportedly had a relatively cheap release clause in the case of relegation. With Stoke in the Championship, Shaqiri was very keen on the move and for around £12 million, he signed for Liverpool.
He has impressed heavily in pre-season scoring a bicycle on his debut against bitter rivals Manchester United and showing other promising signs against Napoli. He impressed again when the Reds took on Torino at Anfield with a brilliant assist for Daniel Sturridge who calmly flicked in a header.
Do these performances in pre-season really prove that he’s going to be good for Liverpool? Not exactly. What they show us is that Shaqiri is a player that is not only full of quality but he’s versatile and can play in a host of positions. He will predominately feature as an attacking midfielder playing behind the front three and he will be perfect for finding a way past teams that park the bus. He is also a set-piece specialist meaning balls into the box from free-kicks and corners will be even better for the likes of Van Dijk, Lovren, Fabinho and Firmino.
You might ask why Shaqiri will have such a big impact after seeing Naby Keita’s impressive Premier League debut. Naby Keita was brilliant against West Ham and played a big role in the buildup to Salah’s opener. However, Shaqiri offers something different than Naby Keita who is best known for picking the ball up in midfield and driving at defences. Shaqiri will find himself in space and will get the ball and quickly release someone rather than dribble with the ball. While he does certainly have the ability to beat a man, he will have more of an impact sitting deep like Kevin de Bruyne does for Manchester City. The Swiss international will also have a fatigue advantage when he comes on for Liverpool and as defences begin to lose concentration, the 26-year-old can be subbed on to make the most of that.
He’s a player that has definitely impressed Jurgen Klopp and at the time of his signing, he was doubted by many. He has already proven his worth in pre-season and while it doesn’t translate into good form in the league, it does show the ability he has to put balls into the box. It’s also worth mentioning that he has featured mostly coming on as a substitute with the likes of Ings, Sturridge, Origi and Lallana up front rather than the more lethal front three. This means that he should be even better with more experienced and talented finishers to put away the chances he creates.
He might not be the player that Liverpool fans wanted but he might be the player they need. His quality and ability are there, if he can be patient with his game time and make the most of his appearances off the bench then he’ll become a top quality player under Jurgen Klopp. So Liverpool fans, let us know your thoughts on this signing and if you think Shaqiri can be a good signing for you? Let us know by tweeting @AllOutFootball_ using #AOF.