Jack Hallows thinks that Xherdan Shaqiri is proving his worth for Liverpool Football Club, forming a new ‘fab four’ with his attacking team mates.
Liverpool’s previous fab four of Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané were broken up before they ever really got the chance to gel properly, resulting in most of last season’s attacking brilliance coming in the form of a trio.
The combination of movement, trickery, pace, skill and ruthlessness was perfectly suited to Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3 formation with a midfield comprising of a holder (Henderson or Can), a carrier (Milner or Wijnaldum) and a driver in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain complimenting them to devastating effect.
For whatever reason though, this campaign has seen that same front three struggle to really get going.
There have been glimpses – they’ve put four goals past West Ham, Belgrade and Cardiff while their attacking performances against PSG, Spurs and Chelsea were all deserving of far more impressive scorelines.
Overall however, the Reds’ attack hasn’t quite possessed the same sting or bite if you will.
There is one player though who seems to bring the best out of them.
The signing of Shaqiri for £13m in the summer was met with a serious amount of trepidation by Liverpool fans.
Klopp was given the benefit of the doubt by most, due to his prior success having turned to relegated clubs to bring in Gini Wijnaldum and Andy Robertson in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Shaqiri was also seen as evidently possessing talent having played for Bayern Munich and Inter Milan before moving to Stoke but it was going to be a matter of whether Klopp could bring the best out of the Swiss international and iron out supposed work rate issues.
Andrew Beasley – a statistician who has worked on pieces for Liverpool’s official site and the Liverpool Echo – tweeted the following prior to kick off against Fulham.
Far too soon for talk of a new Fab Four, but Liverpool have scored 7 goals in the 123 mins where Firmino, Mané, Salah and Shaqiri have all been on the pitch.
More today please, Reds.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) November 11, 2018
All four started against the London side and while the Reds weren’t at their best, they created chances, looked good on the front foot and came away with a 2-0 win.
Those two goals mean that when Liverpool have had Xherdan Shaqiri, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané all on the pitch at the same time this season, they’ve managed an incredible 9 goals in 204 minutes.
That’s a goal every 23 minutes.
The presence of the former Bayern Munich attacker means that opposition defenders have an extra threat to pay attention to, while the Reds have an extra man making his way into the box.
With the front four and the full-backs all bombing on into the attacking third, it helps to create the overloads that have been so effective for the Reds over the past two seasons and that are also a huge part of team-to-beat Man City’s attacking game.
The most encouraging part about Xherdan Shaqiri’s presence however, is that he simply makes things happen.
The Reds have previously looked inept at breaking down teams who line up in two banks of four and employ a low block but Shaqiri just seems to have the ability to not just unlock the door but batter it open.
When given a chance against Southampton, it was his attempt that brought about the Saints own goal, while it was also his free kick that cannoned onto the cross bar for Salah to tap in.
More recently, it was his goal and assist performance off the bench that turned a potential banana skin against Cardiff into an eventual 4-1 breeze.
He also seems to be bringing the best out of our Egyptian King, much in the same way that Oxlade-Chamberlain did during the second half of last season.
The Swiss international is able to read Salah’s intentions beautifully and as a result, the pair have been combining to great effect when both on the field.
If we include Shaqiri’s free kick against Southampton that resulted in a tap in for Salah, the pair have combined for four goals so far, with Shaqiri teeing up Salah three times and the Egyptian repaying the favour against Cardiff.
This makes them the Reds’ most fruitful partnership so far this campaign with Salah/Mané and Milner/Penalty spot the only other combinations to directly contribute more than one goal this season.
The only thing left for Klopp to work out in this system and when deciding to use all four of his mercurial attackers is what to do with Roberto Firmino.
Sadio Mané has very much made the left wing his own since the start of the 2017 season, while Xherdan Shaqiri’s inclusion has generally been in a role on the right hand side, pushing Salah central as a result.
The only problem with this, is that in the 4-2-3-1, Firmino is forced to drop deeper and deeper in order to get on the ball and help out defensively, sacrificing some of his own attacking brilliance.
It’s no secret that the Brazilian hasn’t completely been on his game this season yet, especially in the end product department but it could be as much down to this new role than anything.
The more Shaqiri plays and adapts to Klopp’s defensive demands, the more I’d like to see Firmino restored to the striker role with Salah going back out to the right.
The Egyptian is at his most destructive when starting on the right and being able to drift centrally, cutting in on that deadly left foot and slapping the ball into the far corner and we know from last campaign just how good Firmino is when the shackles are off and he can spearhead our attack.
The former Hoffenheim forwards’ best performances this season came against Paris Saint Germain (off the bench of course), away at Tottenham Hotspur and on the opening day against West Ham.
In all three he was the main striker and led the attack with gusto and in all three he provided a goal contribution (2 goals and 1 assist).
Regardless of this, the 14 goals scored, 1 goal conceded and 3 points secured on each of the four occasions when all four of these attackers are on the field for at least 30 minutes together don’t lie.
These four players must start together – at least against sides who are going to try and shut up shop and defend.
A midfield double pivot of Fabinho and one of Wijnaldum/Henderson/Keïta is more than solid enough to back the forwards up, while the form, pace and ability of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez at centre half fills me with nothing but confidence when opposition sides try to hit us on the counter.
We’re a lot more solid at the back this season which if anything, should allow us to attack with far more confidence and gusto than we have been in the 4-3-3.
I recently wrote a piece on why Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp need to embrace their chaotic side again and these four attackers are more than capable of helping their side do this, especially when they’re all playing together.