Xherdan Shaqiri: A Multi-Faceted Low Risk, High Reward Buy
With England now out of the World Cup and the impending realisation that football will in fact not be coming home, attentions will return to the summer transfer window with fans desperate for further incomings.
Naby Keita and Fabinho drew widespread optimism amongst Liverpool fans, enhancing belief that Klopp can secure his first piece of silverware and mount a real challenge on the Premier League title.
Shaqiri meanwhile, seems to have polarised opinions; a mixture of buoyancy and despondency, the Stoke City winger has been touted as a bargain by some and a headscratcher by others.
The Swiss international is Klopp’s third signing of the window, completing a move ahead of Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States. A cut-price option to bolster the club’s attacking threat, Shaqiri represents a shrewd piece of business for the Reds, relieving one of their most obvious weaknesses in prior campaigns.
Everyone knows just how good Liverpool’s forward trio can be. However, the problem lies in their absence. Without their star-studded attack, there is a distinct drop-off in quality – Adam Lallana’s entrance in the Champions League final after Salah’s untimely shoulder injury was testament to that. That’s only going to be exacerbated in the 2018/19 campaign with the long-term injury of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the slow recuperation of Adam Lallana himself. Even then, he remains a player far more effective in central areas.
That leaves Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi as the four forwards currently acting as understudy to Roberto Firmino, none of whom are able to replicate his unparalleled work-rate and goal-scoring record combined. Given at least two of them are expected to depart in the near future, it’s clear why Klopp’s mind is on further recruits.
An absence of the usual buzz around impending signings is probably a result of Shaqiri spending three years at a Stoke City side that sunk to the Championship in rather laughable fashion, struggling to produce the swift, high-quality football we’ve come to expect from within England’s top flight. That, and the fact he joins Liverpool as a rotation option instead of a mainstay in the starting eleven.
Shaqiri was one of few positives from Stoke’s campaign, featuring from the right-wing in all but two of their games.
Rising to prominence at Basel, Shaqiri’s lightning pace and ability from dead-ball situations saw him score 23 goals and 27 assists in 130 appearances before earning a move to Bayern Munich for three years. 81 appearances, 17 goals and 19 assists later and he moved to Inter Milan before landing in the Premier League with Stoke in 2015.
The 26-year-old scored eight goals last season, marking his best return over the course of his three-year tenure at the Bet365 – 4 goals and 2 assists in 2016/17 and 3 goals 6 assists in 2015/16.
Such a tally would’ve made him Liverpool’s fourth top goal-scorer behind only Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino who scored a mere 91 goals between them. Alongside an additional seven assists, he’ll certainly be an effective outlet for Klopp to call on from the bench and one far superior to the current dearth of options.
According to Opta Stats, Shaqiri created 77 chances during the course of the season, 14 of which were deemed ‘big chances’. That’s more than Mane’s nine or Salah’s 12. To offer some further comparison, the Swiss forward made 2.1 key passes per game, more than Mane’s 1.7, thereby reflecting his creative ingenuity and verve.
Stoke’s No.23 created 2.27 chances per ninety in 2017/18 – superior than Mane’s 1.90 and Salah’s 1.92. Averaging 0.52 tackles per ninety – more than double Salah (0.20) – while chipping in with 0.49 interceptions compared to Mané’s 0.34 and Salah’s 0.16, the statistics suggest that Shaqiri is capable of putting a shift in despite persistent concerns over his willingness to track back. Rest assured Klopp wouldn’t have sanctioned a move if he thought Shaqiri would fail to buy into his pressing philosophy.
As a set-piece operator, he ranks fifth among Premier League forwards from key passes in dead ball situations per ninety minutes with 0.82, thereby giving an extra dynamic to Klopp’s pulsating attack.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s got a flair for the spectacular, too. Of course, I’m talking about that sensational acrobatic attempt in Euro 2016 when his bicycle kick from the edge of the area smashed into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
His beautiful curled strike against Honduras wasn’t half bad either.
Operating on either flank during his time at Bayern and Inter before fulfilling a No.10 role last season at Stoke, the forward’s versatility will be a huge benefit to Klopp ahead of a four-pronged attack on the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup this season.
The price will have undoubtedly played a huge factor in the move; a £13.5million buyout clause in his contract represents a huge coup in the current market, especially given Klopp previously sold Jordon Ibe to Bournemouth for a nearly identical fee while Kevin Stewart fetched approximately £8million. Talk about a bargain!
A multi-faceted player, Shaqiri has all the tools to make the grade at a top-four side; strong from dead-ball situations with that good kind of arrogance in possession, he’ll thrive in Klopp’s thrilling and frenetic attacking system.