Shaqiri can emulate past 'risks' Sturridge and Coutinho
On current form, Xherdan Shaqiri is Liverpool’s most in-form attacking player.
The Swiss is yet to put a foot wrong for the Reds despite struggling to earn regular playing time, while his performances for Switzerland have been outstanding.
He produced a match-winning display in his country’s shock 5-2 win over Belgium on Sunday night, and has now scored two goals and registered five assists in his last eight appearances domestically and internationally.
The current signs are immensely positive from a Liverpool point of view, with the £13million paid to Stoke City in the summer already looking like peanuts.
Such has been the positive way in which Shaqiri has settled at Anfield, it is easy to forget that many deemed him a risky signing at the time.
A player tipped for great things from a young age, the 27-year-old failed to be a genuine success at both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, with his potential not reached.
The fact that he joined Stoke appeared to be a sign of how far he had fallen, even though his performances almost kept the Potters in the Premier League.
It was, therefore, understandable why there wasn’t overriding positivity surrounding Liverpool signing him, at a time when they had just reached the Champions League final and were looking to kick on and buy world-class talent.
Jurgen Klopp has been almost perfect in the transfer market to date, though, barring Loris Karius and arguably Joel Matip not cutting the mustard, and acquiring Shaqiri’s signature already looks like a masterstroke.
There are immediate comparisons to be drawn with two other Liverpool players when it comes to risky buys, dating back to January 2013.
Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho both arrived that month, with their natural talent undeniable but question marks surrounding key elements of their game, namely consistency, substance and attitude.
Remind you of anyone?
Sturridge had been tipped to become a future England regular as a teenager at Man City and Chelsea snapped him up in the summer of 2009.
He never came close to becoming a key member of the team, though, despite winning the Champions League in 2012, in which he was an unused substitute in the final against Bayern Munich.
Brendan Rodgers took a punt on him seven months after taking charge at Liverpool and it was an inspired decision from the off, as the Ulsterman searched for more firepower.
Sturridge scored on his debut away to Mansfield Town, and in his next two matches, becoming the first Reds player to score in his first three appearances since Ray Kennedy in 1974.
In no time at all, the striker’s quality shone through and he was soon working majestically in tandem with Luis Suarez and becoming the fourth-fastest post-war player to reach 50 goals for the Reds (at the time).
Injuries have been cruel on Sturridge, robbing him of the chance to become a genuine Liverpool legend, but he has still been a success story, netting 67 times in 145 games.
Meanwhile, Coutinho arrived from Inter Milan as a 20-year-old with endless trickery but a mixed reputation in Italy.
Within a year, however, he was a key component of the 2013/14 side that so nearly won the Premier League title, with his value rising all the time.
As Suarez left for Barcelona, Sturridge’s injury problems racked up and Steven Gerrard waned, Coutinho suddenly found himself the most important player at the club.
He thrived with such responsibility, dragging them through matches, scoring some of the best Liverpool goals of the last decade and producing moments of individual brilliance that will live with supporters forever.
The South American ended up moving to Barcelona back in January, which has tarnished his reputation a little, but there is no denying that he went from being a gamble to a superstar during his time on Merseyside.
Both Sturridge and Coutinho were still young when they joined Liverpool, but there was a definite feeling that it was their last chance to shine a genuinely big club.
The pair took their opportunity and made themselves heroes and it is impossible to look at Shaqiri and not see similarities.
He didn’t do the business at either Bayern or Inter, despite moments of class here and there, and at 27, he will know he won’t get another opportunity at a European powerhouse, should he fail at Liverpool.
The diminutive, bull-like wide man looks hungry to impress and show the world that he can grow into the player he was tipped to become all those years ago, with almost every appearance for the Reds eye-catching so far.
He adds an extra dimension to the attack when he plays, generally drifting in from the right-hand side and causing problems with his vision, pace and unpredictability.
While Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are struggling to find top gear and Mohamed Salah isn’t quite hitting last season’s ridiculous standards, Shaqiri looks like the man to consistently provide a spark in the final third.
Klopp finds himself with a selection headache ahead of Saturday’s trip to Watford, in terms of where he plays Shaqiri, if at all.
Should the manager feel conservative, it may be that the Swiss sits on the bench, with a 4-3-3 formation adopted and a more robust midfield selected.
Sticking with the 4-2-3-1 system is the bold option, however, making room for Shaqiri on the right wing, with Firmino slotting into the No.10 role that he hasn’t always looked comfortable in this season.
On current form, it feels unfair and negligent not to select Shaqiri – he merits being selected for the trip to Vicarage Road as much as anyone.
He is seizing this last chance saloon at Liverpool and looks capable of becoming every bit the hero Sturridge and Coutinho were after they also joined as divisive figures.
While all the summer talk was about Alisson, Naby Keita and Fabinho, could Shaqiri end up being the real find of the summer of 2018?