Scott Groom explains why Xherdan Shaqiri has earned the chance to start for his new club against West Ham in Liverpool’s 2018/19 Premier League opener.
The new Premier League season is almost upon us, with excitement building among Liverpool fans as they eagerly await their season opener against Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United.
The Anfield clash will serve as a first chance for many new signings for both teams to make their debuts and Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri is one of those vying for a place in Jürgen Klopp’s starting XI.
His arrival from Stoke City for a mere £13 million has gone done rather well with Kopites thus far, and after seeing impressive clips from pre-season training emerge on social media, along with that stunning overhead kick in the 4-1 win over Manchester United, many will be backing Shaqiri to not only make an appearance, but to start against The Hammers. And you can see why.
Although it is a near impossible task to replace either one of Mané, Firmino or Salah for Liverpool, there are arguments for perhaps giving one of them a rest, particularly Bobby and Mo.
Both only recently reported back for pre-season duties after a long stint at the World Cup for Bobby (albeit without playing too much football) and a stay in Russia and a much-needed recuperation following a shoulder injury for Salah. It’s safe to say that, these things considered, they may not be at their sharpest.
Shaqiri, on the other hand, had a positive World Cup with Switzerland but was home and resting before Bobby and at the same time as Mo, but has rejoined pre-season training prior to both others. While he may not be as well versed in playing in the Klopp system as Firmino and Salah, he may be physically sharper at this point in time.
Add to that the fact that he will be chomping at the bit to prove his worth to Liverpool fans and to those doubting his success at Anfield already, and Shaqiri could be the ideal, explosive live wire the Reds will be craving to see on the opening weekend.
There is perhaps another option to start Shaqiri a bit deeper, in a role similar to that which Philippe Coutinho operated in before his move to Spain, and have him act as a playmaker for a front three of Mané, Salah and Firmino – which is undoubtedly Klopp’s preferred attacking choice.
There will also be many other names, including summer signings Keïta and Fabinho, fighting for the other spaces in Klopp’s midfield, so Shaqiri will have his work cut out here, and will certainly have to be well disciplined in his defensive duties should he get picked in this role.
Perhaps the more likely option should Klopp play Shaqiri, Mané, Salah and Firmino is dropping Mané into that number 10 role, mirroring his new shirt number. This would leave Shaqiri playing as part of a front three, somewhere where perhaps he is more accustomed.
The overarching point of all of the above is perhaps that Shaqiri is a versatile player, which is most likely one of the things that attracted Klopp to him.
This combined with what appears to be a wonderful attitude in training, and fitting in well with the rest of the squad and good form in games and training sessions could well be giving his new manager quite the tactical dilemma.
Personally, I would not be surprised to see the four attacking options being used with Mané at number 10 and Shaqiri up top. I think Klopp will set out to go and get West Ham, with Naby Keïta and either one of Fabinho taking up the other two places in midfield – that is unless Klopp opts for a change of formation.
Shaqiri has all the right attributes going in his favour, and should he be selected, the expectation will be large.
He is a man who has been questioned by former teammate Charlie Adam recently in terms of his attitude, but Reds will be hoping that that is a thing of the past and he can start anew at Anfield this coming weekend.