It’s hardly been a vintage Liverpool this season, having struggled to produce their usual fluency and freneticism in attack. A narrow and nervy win against Huddersfield last weekend was testament to that, while their last venture in the Champions League against Napoli delivered an awful performance. Failing to register a shot until late in the second half, the Reds lacked creativity and drive in midfield – two traits Oxlade-Chamberlain displayed in abundance last season. However, with Klopp opting for Shaqiri in a midfield role, able to drift inside and act as the No.10, things couldn’t have been more different at Anfield.
Shaqiri delivers the goods
Creativity has been a real problem for Liverpool this season, particularly from midfield with Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum unable to step into the void left by Oxlade-Chamberlain. However, it appears Klopp may now have found his answer. Delivering a performance oozing in class and confidence, Shaqiri was on hand to add the creative spark, showing positivity whenever he gained possession to drive forward and take the game to Red Star Belgrade.
The opening goal was all about his individual brilliance; tracking back 20 yards to regain possession, the Swiss international advanced forward with the ball before threading a perfectly weighted, eye of the needle pass through to Andy Robertson in behind the defence. The quality of the ball meant he didn’t even need to break stride, delivering a first-time drilled cross into the box for Firmino. The Brazilian would make no mistake with the finish, curling a brilliant strike into the top right corner to set Liverpool on their way.
He was the orchestrator for the second goal too, delivering a pinpoint touch into the path of Mohamed Salah which allowed him to get off his strike. Every time Shaqiri picked up the ball he made something happen, delivering incisive passes that illustrated his impeccable vision. Such a clever performance will see him pushing hard for a starting spot in the coming games, especially given Naby Keita remains sidelined with an injury.
Fabinho knocking at the door for a starting spot
Making a highly anticipated start at the base of the midfield, Fabinho delivered a top draw performance that’ll have many hoping he retains his spot in the side for weeks to come.
Quick in the tackle, making a number of crunching challenges to prevent Belgrade from building up any kind of momentum in the middle, the Brazilian added grit and steeliness to the side alongside a confidence to be progressive with the ball, winning a stunning 18 of 24 duels. While Jordan Henderson can sometimes be criticised for being too passive in possession, Fabinho looked to surge on wherever he could, taking the ball past opponents and spotting the runs of his teammates. Such vision and awareness makes him a prime asset within the midfield while an assertive presence will only help ensure Liverpool continue their impressive defensive record this season.
There’s plenty of competition for places in the midfield as is, but based on Wednesday’s performance, Fabinho will be right in amongst the pack for the weekend and beyond. With several elements to his game, he could be a huge asset in the title bid.
Front three show their fluency
The weekend trip to Huddersfield left much to be desired in terms of the front three; Firmino, Mané and Salah all struggled to link play and combine with quick one-two moves that were such a feature of 2017/18. It was a return to the old ways here, with a flexible shape and interchanging between the trio proving a real handful for the away side. Shaqiri popped up in the left, right and middle while Mané switched to the right-hand side on occasion in the first half. An initial tactic of having Mo through the middle with Firmino in the hole was a greater proof of the flexibility within the Liverpool side. The intricacy of positioning and alertness to the movement of others was on show throughout, enabling a greater fluency to the side that Klopp will hope to bring into the weekend.
A goal for all three players will be a major boost, giving them the confidence to take into the Premier League amid hopes of Liverpool hitting the ground running against Cardiff and building up ahead of steam for a fiery encounter with Arsenal.
More records broken from Mohamed Salah
Despite being regarded as ‘off colour’ this season, Mohamed Salah smashed yet another record in midweek with a brace taking his tally to 50 goals in 65 matches across all competitions since his arrival in 2017. A stunning record by anyone’s standards, his goals meant he broke a record set in the post-war period by Albert Stubbins in the 1940s.
That sees Salah comfortably ahead of Ian Rush, Roger Hunt, Robbie Fowler and co., extending his tally to six goals for the season in the process.