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Friday 30 November 2018 11:32, UK
Xherdan Shaqiri has already become an important player for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Here's how the summer signing has done it...
Jurgen Klopp provided a ringing endorsement of Xherdan Shaqiri when Liverpool confirmed his £13.5m arrival from Stoke in July. The Switzerland international's quality, coupled with his Premier League experience, made the deal a "no-brainer", according to the Liverpool manager.
"He has speed and ability, has the right amount of arrogance on the football pitch, real bravery to want the ball and influence things," Klopp added. "He is someone who makes a big difference to the squad and team, because he can fit in so many positions in our system."
Klopp had tracked Shaqiri since his breakthrough at Basel and had no reservations about bringing him to Anfield, but for others there were still doubts. Shaqiri's talent was not in question but what of his work-rate? Could he meet Klopp's demands at the same time as finding the consistency that eluded him at Stoke? Could he break into the Liverpool team at all?
The doubts lingered in the early weeks of the campaign. Shaqiri did not make his first Liverpool start until their Premier League meeting with Southampton in September, and while he walked off at half-time that day having played a key role in two Liverpool goals, it was telling that he did not emerge for the second period, with Klopp sending on James Milner instead.
"It was not easy, to be honest," explained Klopp. "It's my job to sometimes deliver news nobody wants to hear. That's how it was at half-time but he is a fantastic boy." Klopp went on to praise Shaqiri's attacking contribution but said he wanted to "control the game" after the break. "The only problem was defensively," he added.
Shaqiri was still adapting Klopp's style but it wasn't long before there were signs of progress. When he returned to a Premier League starting line-up against Huddersfield a month later, there was notable increase in off-the-ball intensity. Shaqiri not only completed the 90 minutes but also ran more than half a kilometre further (11.5km) than any other Liverpool player.
It was, in fact, the most ground Shaqiri has ever covered in a Premier League game.
Shaqiri's critics will tell you he was more likely to be seen standing with his hands on his hips than chasing down defenders at Stoke, but at Liverpool he has made a big contribution to Klopp's high-pressing tactics. Opta data shows he ranks behind only Mohamed Salah at Liverpool for possession won in the attacking third per 90 minutes this season.
Shaqiri is helping Liverpool out of possession in a way many thought beyond him, but his work with the ball has been just as significant. In just 381 minutes on the pitch in the Premier League, there have been two goals and two assists. Both goals, the first against Cardiff, the second against Fulham, have been beautifully executed.
The assists, meanwhile, are a consequence of impressive creativity. There have been times since Philippe Coutinho's departure last season when Liverpool have lacked the guile to unpick stubborn defences. But Shaqiri has changed that.
So far this season, he has created chances from open play in the Premier League more frequently than any other Liverpool player. His average of 2.1 per 90 minutes puts him well ahead of Salah, Liverpool's next most creative player, and places him 11th of the 287 Premier League players to have played a minimum of 360 minutes this season.
He has been similarly effective in the Champions League. It was Salah who took the headlines with his two goals in Liverpool's 4-0 thrashing of Red Star Belgrade last month, but he wouldn't have got them without Shaqiri, whose performance drew praise from Klopp afterwards.
"I think [Salah] would say thanks to his team-mates," he said. "It's quite difficult to score goals without these wonderful passes, crosses. The first goal he scored was a genius little link-up play by Shaq."
Klopp has since described Shaqiri as "the guy for the decisive moments" and it is easy to see why he already values him so highly.
The 27-year-old possesses the flair and vision to create something out of nothing and the stats show that Liverpool are far more effective as a team when he plays. In the Premier League this season, they have scored 12 goals in 416 minutes with him on the pitch compared to 14 goals in 826 minutes without him.
Shaqiri's versatility has proved as useful as Klopp expected. He has impressed in midfield at times this season but by using him on the right in recent games, Klopp has been able to move Salah up front. From that position, and with regular service from his new team-mate, the Egyptian has scored four Premier League goals in as many games.
It is just another reason why Shaqiri is now seen as a starter rather than a squad player. Klopp never doubted him but there were plenty who did. Four months on from his arrival at Anfield, however, and he is already proving them wrong.
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