Xherdan Shaqiri has made a swift return to the Premier League just two months after Stoke City’s relegation from the top flight.
The Swiss international has signed for Liverpool on a five-year deal after the Reds triggered his release clause of £13m.
Shaqiri is Liverpool’s third signing of the summer, following the captures of midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho.
The move looks like a savvy one on Jurgen Klopp’s part, with the German manager addressing the lack of squad depth that restricted his ability to rotate the likes of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino towards the end of last season.
Predominantly a right-winger but more than able of being deployed in “the hole” behind a striker, Shaqiri gives Klopp the opportunity to rest one of last season’s front trio without disrupting the balance of his side. Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke were the sum total of Klopp’s alternatives in attack last season as Liverpool rotated in the league ahead of the UEFA Champions League final in May, but the Reds looked disjointed without the dovetailing Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mane in the side.
Salah, of course, played much of last season on the right of the front three in Klopp’s widely used 4-3-3 and Shaqiri would be a capable deputy were the Egyptian star to require a long-overdue rest.
Klopp could even field Shaqiri alongside all three of last season’s top scorers with a slight formation tweak – Mane and Salah could play either side of Shaqiri in a 4-2-3-1, with Firmino as the focal point of the attack. Klopp indeed rolled out this formation in the 4-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion on the final day of the 2017/18 Premier League season.
Priced at £7.5m in Fantasy Premier League this season, Shaqiri is £2.0m cheaper than both Mane and Firmino and £5.5m less expensive than Salah. While the former Bayern Munich and Inter winger would, perhaps, expect to be a bit-part player at first this season, Fantasy managers would only be an injury or two away from having a cut-price route into the Liverpool front line.
Shaqiri’s arrival at Anfield does, of course, mean that we can be far less confident about pitch time for our premium Liverpool midfield and forward assets, particularly around Champions League fixtures and the busy festive period.
Klopp said of his latest acquisition:
He has speed and ability, has the right amount of arrogance on the football pitch, real bravery to want the ball and influence things. To play for us these are mandatory requirements.
We are the perfect move for him in this moment as well I think, because he needs to push himself and challenge himself and our environment encourages that. We will want him to express himself but also learn and improve the areas of his game where he can still make progression.
Born in Gjilan in present-day Kosovo, Shaqiri and his family emigrated to Switzerland while he was still an infant and it was with FC Basel that Shaqiri got his break in senior football.
Having scored eight goals in 19 appearances for FC Basel II in the Swiss fourth tier, Shaqiri made the step up to the first team in 2009 at the age of 17.
A total of 18 goals and 19 assists in 92 appearances with the Swiss club – who won the domestic league in each of Shaqiri’s three seasons as a first-team regular – attracted the attention of Bayern Munich, who snapped up the-then 20-year-old talent for a reported €11.6m.
Shaqiri’s move to the Bavarian giants wasn’t quite a roaring success, with exactly half of his 52 appearances for the German side coming as a substitute. After falling out of favour with Pep Guardiola at Munich, Shaqiri departed for Inter in January 2015 for an equally ill-fated four-month spell in Italy. After just one goal in 15 appearances (seven of them as a substitute) for I Nerazzurri, Shaqiri was procured by Mark Hughes’ Stoke City for £12m.
The Swiss midfielder’s most productive season for the Potters was to be the club’s relegation campaign of 2017/18. Having previously scored on seven occasions and registered a combined eight assists for Stoke in his first two seasons with the club, Shaqiri played a part in 17 (eight goals, nine assists) of City’s 35 league goals as they slipped out of the top tier for the first time in a decade.
Having made his debut for the Swiss national team in March 2010, Shaqiri has made 74 appearances for his adopted country and scored on 21 occasions. Liverpool’s new “number 23” has represented the Swiss at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, as well as Euro 2016.
Still – somehow – only 26, Shaqiri has perhaps yet to peak. Having received top-level grounding with Bayern and Inter and Premier League experience with Stoke, Shaqiri shouldn’t need much time to bed in at Anfield next season.
Shaqiri has a combined five national titles and four domestic cups to his name from spells at Basel and Bayern and even has a Champions League winners’ medal, following the Bavarian club’s triumph in 2013 (Shaqiri played no part in the final against Borussia Dortmund, however). With 44 appearances in either the Champions League or Europa League to his name, Shaqiri has more European experience under his belt than the likes of Mane, Firmino and Keita.
Any in-depth statistical comparison with Salah would be an exercise in futility given that Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder has just enjoyed a remarkable season and consideration ought to be given to the fact that Shaqiri plied his trade for a struggling club in 2017/18 when assessing his underlying attacking statistics.
For starters, the Potters had 250 fewer shots than Liverpool and less than half (51) the number of big chances.
Shaqiri had only one shot fewer than Mane last season, though played over 800 more minutes that Liverpool’s Senegalese midfielder.
As a result, Shaqiri’s minutes-per-chance mean of 44.2 minutes was a modest one and inferior to not only that of Mane and Salah but also his Stoke team-mates Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Mame Biram Diouf and Charlie Adam.
It is intriguing to note how many of Shaqiri’s shots come from distance. Only 36.2% of Shaqiri’s shots were struck from inside the box last season, while no Premier League player scored more goals (five) from outside the opposition area than the Swiss international.
As a result of his shoot-on-sight policy, only five of Shaqiri’s chances were deemed “big” ones; Salah had over eight times more, by way of comparison.
Shaqiri indeed had two fewer penalty box touches than Joe Allen last season and almost half as many as Choupo-Moting.
The Alpine Messi‘s creativity statistics are where he particularly stands out, however.
Shaqiri created more opportunities, supplied more big chances and delivered more crosses than any Liverpool player last season and made a key pass on average every 41 minutes – a better rate than any of the Reds’ much-heralded front three.
Shaqiri was Stoke’s chief set-piece taker last season, firing in 88 corners and 12 free-kick attempts, and his impressive creativity statistics can be partly attributed to his prominent role at dead-ball situations.
It remains to be seen whether the Swiss midfielder is afforded as many opportunities from set-play situations with Liverpool, but the fact that two of the Reds’ three main corner-kick takers last season were Philippe Coutinho (now departed) and James Milner (who will surely be even more peripheral next season) bodes well for Shaqiri’s chances.
Despite the raft of statistics we have presented so far, perhaps the most salient one is this: Shaqiri’s average of 4.3 points per match last season was only beaten by Riyad Mahrez among midfielders who didn’t play for the “big six” (discounting the now-reclassified Wilfried Zaha and Marko Arnautovic).
That Shaqiri managed that feat in a relegated side who scored less than half as many goals as Liverpool and that he contributed to almost 50% of the Potters’ 35 strikes illustrates just how potent a Fantasy asset he could be in a side as free-flowing as the Reds – if afforded game time.
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