After missing the vast majority of last season through a succession of niggling calf injuries, Xherdan Shaqiri has given Liverpool a timely reminder of his abilities over the course of the last week.
Coming off the bench against Midtjylland and West Ham respectively, the Swiss international was key to the Reds eking out two wins that could prove to be vitally important come the campaign’s end.
Against the Danes in the Champions League at Anfield, Shaqiri played a beautiful, against the grain reverse ball to Trent Alexander Arnold in the box. The right-back then crossed across the face of the goal for Diogo Jota to tap in, but the lions share of the credit belongs to the number 23 for his sublime vision and execution.
Against the Hammers in the Premier League, the diminutive 29-year old again provided the attacking inspiration to give the Reds’ the lead. From the number 10 position at the edge of the box, Shaqiri — showing a synergy with his Portuguese teammate — sliced through the Londoner’s rearguard with a delicately disguised eye of the needle through ball for Jota.
The former Wolves forward waited for Łukasz Fabiański to commit to a corner before cooly lifting the ball over the Polish keeper for what proved to be the winning goal for the hosts. Jota will go down in the history books as the match-winner, but the goal was borne from Shaqiri’s intelligence and technical prowess.
The former FC Bayern attacker was linked with a move away from Anfield for all of the summer transfer window and, after missing the Reds’ League Cup penalties defeat to Arsenal, it appeared as though the “Alpine Messi” would be on his way to pasture new.
However, the former Stoke City player opted to stay put and Liverpool will be the real winners because of it. Shaqiri was a key squad player for the Reds in the 2018/2019 Champions League-winning season. In the League, the 84 times capped Swiss international made 24 appearances, scoring six goals and laying on three assists.
Last season, injuries reduced the 29-year-old to only seven league appearances, but even then he managed to make an impact, most notably with a goal in the 5-2 Merseyside Derby win over Everton in the League Cup.
Jurgen Klopp played tribute to his number 23’s abilities in his pre-Atalanta Champions League press conference.
“He’s a versatile player, he can play 8, 10 or on the wing,” the German said. “Sometimes players have a bad run with injuries. Now everything is fine, good for him and even better for us because we missed him last year. He’s had a massive impact. Happy to have him back.”
With a crazily compacted schedule of games this season, there will be plenty of opportunities to go around, and the attacker — nicknamed the “Powercube” — also has a niche of being the only left-footed midfielder in the squad and, with Mohamed Salah, one of two left-footed attackers for Klopp to pick from.
Since joining the club, midfield is the area where Klopp has rotated most, even in what you could term normal seasons. But now, with any sense of normality long since gone out the window, the midfield rotational dial could be turned up to 11 and the versatile Shaqiri stands to benefit.
Recently, the defending Champions have added two sitting midfielders to their team to add solidity and mitigate for the loss of Virgil van Dijk, and have experimented with a 4231 formation. In this alignment, Shaqiri could cover both the number 10 slot and the right-wing. In the Reds’ favoured 433 shape, the Swiss of Kosovar Albanian descent could play as an advanced number 8 or as the right-sided attacker.
Often you are at the mercy of fortune, and the Gods may well have shone on Liverpool the day Shaqiri decided to stay at Anfield.