Last Updated: 13/07/18 9:12pm
When it became clear that Mohamed Salah would not be able to continue, Jurgen Klopp had a big decision to make.
Trying to replace a player with 44 goals in the season to his name is an unenviable task at the best of times, let alone 29 minutes into a Champions League final. Klopp plumped for Adam Lallana, who had played just 16 minutes of football in the two months prior, had played more than half an hour only once since January and has not played regularly in the front three since the 2015/16 season.
The only realistic alternative was Dominic Solanke, a 20-year-old with only one senior goal to his name. Liverpool’s fearsome front three had taken them to Kiev but the drop off in quality to those in reserve was stark, certainly following the departures of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, on loan, in January.
It is little surprise then that Klopp and Liverpool have moved to address the issue with Xherdan Shaqiri becoming the club’s third summer signing.
There was a decidedly mixed reaction from Liverpool fans when the Swiss international was first linked with a move to Anfield, around the time a deal for Lyon captain Nabil Fekir fell through.
However, Shaqiri’s release clause of £13.5m makes it a relatively risk-free deal. Even if things were not to work out for the former Stoke playmaker on Merseyside, Liverpool would be confident of at least recouping their money for a player who does not turn 27 until October, especially given the current state of the transfer market.
Of course, the hope for both the player and the club is that it won’t come to that and there is plenty to suggest he can be success at a club he first wanted to join in 2014.
“I had offers from Liverpool and Atletico Madrid,” Shaqiri told spox.com in December 2016. “I opted for Liverpool. [Then-manager] Brendan Rodgers contacted me a few times during the World Cup. But Bayern blocked my move.”
Four years on and having finally arrived, Shaqiri will have a point to prove.
While few would argue against his quality, stylistically Shaqiri will have to make some adjustments. His work rate was called into question at times last season and whether it is in the front three or in midfield, if such questions are asked again this season then he won’t be in the team for long.
The numbers show that Shaqiri actually covered more distance per game (9.6km) than any of Liverpool’s front three but it is how he went about that that will likely need to change.
Shaqiri made significantly fewer sprints per game than any of Salah, Firmino or Mane and with a limited pre-season due to his World Cup commitments, it will be interesting to see if he has the time, or indeed the capability, to adapt to a more physically demanding style of play.
While the expectation from the outside is that Shaqiri will act as back-up to Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, as someone who can be rotated in when one of that forward line are in need of a rest, the player himself will no doubt believe that he is capable of making a spot in the starting XI his own.
What he cannot expect is to be seen as the star man, as he was at Stoke, and how he deals with sitting on the bench and having to make an impact off it could go a long way to determining how successful he is at Anfield.
One thing may help him to minimise his time on the sidelines is his versatility. Although he predominantly featured on the right for Stoke, Shaqiri is more than capable of operating on the left and played as a No 10 for much of last season.
Given the way Klopp has used Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the past couple of years, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Shaqiri could even feature as a ‘No 8’ in games where Liverpool are expected to dominate possession.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, caused opposition sides problems with his direct running from the middle of the pitch and Shaqiri certainly has the pace and creativity to do similar. The Swiss created 43 chances from open play last season, in addition to scoring eight goals and making seven assists in a struggling Stoke side.
That there are question marks over Shaqiri and his suitability for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool is indisputable but given his age, ability and the fee, the risks are outweighed by the potential rewards.