Wolverhampton, United Kingdom | AFP | Xherdan Shaqiri proved his quality to Liverpool fans almost as soon as he arrived in July but it is only now that he is starting to suggest he can be a key figure in their Premier League title bid.
Shaqiri’s two goals as a substitute on Sunday secured a 3-1 victory over Manchester United that took his team back to the top of the league and he hopes his reward will be a return to the starting line-up away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday.
The Switzerland international was arguably fortunate to get a move to Anfield five months ago, having been part of a relegated Stoke City side, even though he finished as their leading scorer in the Premier League with eight goals.
There were questions too over whether he had the necessary work ethic for the demanding Jurgen Klopp. Answering those questions has taken time, but he is getting there, as the Liverpool boss himself has acknowledged.
“Shaq needs time, it’s normal,” Klopp said. “He knows that he has so much potential still to improve. But of course he’s the guy for decisive moments, that’s how it is, and we have to make sure that it stays like this.”
Shaqiri, 27, announced himself in spectacular style, scoring with an overhead kick in an International Champions Cup win over Manchester United in Ann Arbor in July, days before stating in an interview that he felt his new club “can win everything in the world”.
If that statement seemed hubristic, it was at least made from a position of knowledge as to what it takes to be successful — Shaqiri was part of the Bayern Munich squad that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2013 and 2014.
That winning nous may well prove useful in a Liverpool squad full of talent but short on experience when it comes to winning league titles, although he has had to bide his time for his chance.
Klopp did try him in a midfield role as Liverpool defeated Southampton 3-0 in the Premier League in September but took off the Switzerland international at half-time, believing that his side were far too open.
Even now, his best hope of becoming a regular starter is to displace one of Liverpool’s front three. Because Shaqiri tends to operate on the right, despite being left-footed, it looked initially as if that would mean dislodging Mohamed Salah.
However, Roberto Firmino’s early-season struggles for form in the central attacking role prompted a reshuffle from Klopp, with Salah moving into the middle, the Brazilian dropping back and Shaqiri coming in on the right.
– Starting spot –
Starting with the home victory over Fulham on November 11, the Swiss made five successive league starts in that set-up, with Liverpool winning all of those matches, before he returned to the bench for the match against United, with Klopp preferring to use Firmino and Sadio Mane behind Salah in a 4-3-3 formation.
It was one of the three midfielders, Naby Keita, who Shaqiri replaced with 20 minutes to go against United, with Klopp feeling he could take that risk in an attempt to defeat unadventurous opponents.
The forward offers a useful skill set for Klopp. In addition to his goalscoring threat he possesses an ability to unlock defences with short and long-range passing and an appreciation of how to find and exploit space.
Those skills, in addition to his ability as a free-kick taker, are likely to be vital in tight games as the season goes on. And Klopp has indicated that there will be opportunities for him across the attacking line.
“He is someone who makes a big difference to the squad and team, because he can fit in so many positions in our system,” the manager said.