No starting trouble for Xherdan Shaqiri as Liverpool juggernaut rolls on
Swiss international forms a devastating trio with Divock Origi and Sadio Mane
“Sorry Shaq,” grinned Jurgen Klopp. He had been informed that he had not started Xherdan Shaqiri for seven months. While there were mitigating factors – the summer break, a couple of injuries in a stop-start campaign – a wait was ended in spectacular style.
The Switzerland international capped his belated return to the side by helping Liverpool score five against Everton at Anfield for the first time since 1965. Shaqiri’s goal, and the angled run that preceded it, was distinctly reminiscent of the rested Mohamed Salah.
For the second time in as many starts, he had made the seemingly irreplaceable look actually rather replaceable.
Liverpool may be defined by their feared front three, but there is an another attacking configuration. The previous time Shaqiri, Divock Origi and Sadio Mane were united came in his previous start, the 4-0 demolition of Barcelona. Liverpool went from May to December before turning to the trio again but there were distinct similarities, including another brace for Origi, who is fast becoming football’s finest understudy.
“We know each other very well, we train every day together,” reflected Shaqiri.
Even as Mane underlined his new status as first among equals in the forward line, the man who finished fourth in the Ballon d’Or voting scoring one goal and contributing more assists than he did in the entirety of the 2018-19 league campaign, the deputies showed chemistry. Liverpool were more fluent and potent than they had been with the regulars leading the line against Brighton.
“All the goals we scored were very good – from the training ground, I think,” Shaqiri added. “We trained that a lot. The coach wanted that we ran behind defenders and we know that Everton have some problems.” His finish came courtesy of Mane’s defence-splitting pass and Shaqiri added: “I was very happy to score after a long time. It was a good feeling.”
Shaqiri represents the maverick, a player who brought conspicuous trickery to a derby that illustrated the gulf between neighbours. “It’s nothing new,” he added.
“I’m an instinct footballer so I like to play good football if I feel good.” The broader point is that it illustrated Liverpool’s strength in depth. “The team stays like last season even when the coach makes some changes,” added Shaqiri.
This was evidence of Liverpool’s resourcefulness, a can-do mentality that means they should become champions of England. They made it a club record 32 league games without defeat minus six of their Champions League final starters.
Adrian’s 10 Premier League games have produced a maximum 30 points. Dejan Lovren started the season as the fourth-choice centre-back but played a remarkable 50-yard pass for Origi’s deft second goal. James Milner and Adam Lallana highlighted the reality Liverpool have more options in midfield than any other position.
Lallana floated around between the lines, exposing Everton’s tactical failings in between Cruyff turns. Everton made Jordan Henderson, when he came on, look like the finest of quarterbacks with their propensity to be opened up by the long pass.
Klopp is playing the long game in a different way, reasoning players need to be rested. December is particularly packed, Salah has been nursing an ankle injury and Firmino often does not complete the 90 minutes, burning himself out with incessant effort. Liverpool’s season could stretch beyond 60 games, though it is unlikely to include a League Cup final.
They named their 23-man squad for the Club World Cup, none of whom can then play that League Cup quarter-final against Aston Villa on December 17.
The only notable absentees were the injured Fabinho and Joel Matip as even some of the youngsters who overcame Arsenal on penalties following the 5-5 draw – Rhian Brewster, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams and Curtis Jones – will travel to Qatar.
A Cup competition may be sacrificed but a Merseyside derby was not. “Circumstances were created by myself in the line-up,” Klopp said afterwards.
Anything other than victory would have led to criticism. Yet Liverpool have only experienced anything other than victory once in the top flight in nine months. “For two years I feel it is not ok to draw a game or lose,” said Klopp. His 100th Premier League win was just a statistic. Forty-three points this campaign, however, is a “nice number”.
Published: December 5, 2019 09:20 PM