A lot of eyebrows were raised when Liverpool triggered Xherdan Shaqiri’s £13.5m release clause from Stoke City. To many, the Swiss was way past his prime despite being only 27. Some others kicked, though.
In Jurgen Klopp’s eyes, however, he was not more than just a redundant backup. Similar to that spare tire in the boot of your car, rarely used. Shaqiri was a lookalike, who would occasionally come in to kill games.
The Swiss star may have subconsciously toured that same line. After scoring against Fulham last weekend, he admitted he was only at Anfield to help out. Who? Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane of course.
“When it’s with a goal or assist, it’s always good for the team. I came in the summer to help this team go forward and make the process better,” the ex-Bayern Munich winger moaned.
All through last season, it was clear Reds genuinely needed an extra man in attack. Someone with a different dimension. A player capable of taking games by the scruff of the neck, whenever the esteemed dynamic trio suddenly become rigid.
There was no such player. Adam Lallana was rarely fit enough to try his luck. Young Dominic Solanke was still undergoing some crash offensive courses following his switch from Chelsea. Salah, Mane and Firmino were his tutors. Daniel Sturridge never bothered. He had better motivation at West Brom.
But surprisingly, Shaqiri is seriously pressing to break the front-three.
Despite criticism, the 27-year-old has already come on leaps and bounds under Klopp’s stewardship, and the player who sometimes “went missing” at Stoke has started to show the form of a player with ten domestic titles and a Champions League winners’ medal to his name.
Liverpool’s lack of midfield creativity has been their main problem, despite an unbeaten start to the Premier League campaign. Whilst the likes of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and James Milner have all impressed, none offer many services to the attacking trident. Shaqiri has provided that extra offensive edge.
Although he has the license to cut in from the right onto his wicked left foot, he can also wreak havoc through the middle, with Salah pushing out wide. This unpredictability is what could aid the Reds in breaking down superior opposition.
The Swiss star received a standing ovation when substituted for Milner against Fulham after hitting his second of the season.
Overall, the 27-year-old has been involved in five strikes from only four starts across all competitions.
“He’s been playing well,” Virgil van Dijk said when asked about his new team-mate. “He is working hard like everyone else and when he gets his chance he is doing well. He scored [today] but he’s been pretty important in the last couple of games he’s been involved, which is good for all of us.”
Shaqiri has provided spark, penetrating runs, vision, adroit passes in behind and everything else. He looks lively, determined and hungry. Best, he seems very comfortable alongside Salah.
Over to you Klopp, let him play.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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