Following a highly effective impact during the first half of the season, Xherdan Shaqiri has struggled for opportunities throughout 2019.
An opportunistic £13 million signing from relegated Stoke, Jurgen Klopp described the deal for Shaqiri as a “no-brainer” as the Swiss represented a low-risk addition to bolster Liverpool’s forward options.
After enduring frustrating spells at Bayern Munich and Inter Milan prior to moving to England, Liverpool presented Shaqiri with another chance to thrive at a major European club once more and the deal made a great deal of sense for both parties.
Despite being limited to brief cameo appearances in the early weeks of the campaign, Shaqiri soon managed to force his way into the team as Klopp switched to a 4-2-3-1 system to accommodate him cutting in from the right.
Adding an extra element of creativity and unpredictability to Liverpool’s attack, Shaqiri made numerous important contributions, including a memorable brace off the bench to beat Man United in December.
Since the turn of the year, however, a combination of Klopp shifting back to a 4-3-3 system and niggling injury troubles have seen Shaqiri’s influence wane significantly, leaving his long-term future somewhat unclear.
Xherdan Shaqiri, 2018/19
Started: 15 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 15
Unused sub: 21
Our Overall Season Rating: 7.5
Average TIA Player Rating: 7.03 (Rank: 7th)
A Memorable First Half of the Campaign
Shaqiri had to wait until the sixth league game of the season for his first start.
And despite directly contributing to two goals in the first half as Liverpool beat Southampton 3-0 at Anfield, Klopp hauled him off at half-time for tactical reasons, as opposed to any injury problem.
There was a general sense that while Shaqiri offered plenty on the ball, and worked hard off it, his understanding of the tactical demands of the role, especially in a defensive sense, was not quite fully trusted by Klopp.
In games where Liverpool dominated possession high up the pitch, Shaqiri was ideal, as he could pick a pass to unlock a compact defence—such as his assist for Mohamed Salah at Huddersfield.
But against more accomplished opponents, the right-hand side of the attack needed more defensive solidity and stability for Liverpool to control a game properly.
As a break-glass option, Shaqiri proved himself to be a difference-maker with his electric cameo against United, scoring two (albeit deflected) crucial goals to decide the contest coming off the bench.
During Liverpool’s outstanding December—winning all eight games throughout the month to open up a lead on Man City at the top of the table—Shaqiri started five times, scoring four goals and playing his part in the 5-1 drubbing of Arsenal.
At that point, Shaqiri had very much made himself an integral part of Liverpool’s exceptional title-chasing juggernaut, with his direct play, vision and technique making the £13 million fee look like one of the bargains of the season.
Dropping off the Radar
Shaqiri’s goal in the 4-0 victory over Newcastle on Boxing Day was his sixth of what promised to be a glistening debut season, but it also turned out to be his last of the campaign.
In 2019, Klopp reverted to the familiar 4-3-3 shape of 2017/18, a system which Shaqiri didn’t quite seem to fit into.
He lacked the pace and potency in front of goal to take one of the three forward roles occupied by Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, while his lack of defensive instinct and physical stature meant he wasn’t trusted to play in the midfield three.
An abdominal injury also hindered his opportunities as Shaqiri dropped off the radar, with his final league start of the season coming in the 1-1 draw with Leicester on January 30.
He barely even made an appearance off the bench throughout March and April.
It was a strange fall from prominence for a player whose early performances had offered so much promise, as it looked as though Liverpool had unearthed another gem who looked ready to flourish for years to come and finally fulfil his rich potential.
It led fans to speculate whether there might have been something going on behind the scenes which could explain Shaqiri’s mysterious absence.
But to his credit, Shaqiri never once complained or looked like sulking after falling out of favour, with Divock Origi in particular climbing ahead in the pecking order as Klopp’s go-to attacking change.
Despite his lack of minutes throughout the second half of the campaign, there was still time for Shaqiri to make two telling contributions, firstly coming off the bench at Newcastle as Liverpool desperately chased a late winner to keep their title challenge alive.
Upon instruction from Virgil van Dijk to take a free-kick instead of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Shaqiri stepped up in Liverpool’s moment of need to whip in the perfect ball for Origi to glance the winner.
Then, in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final tie against Barcelona, with Liverpool in need of a miracle to overturn a 3-0 deficit in the absence of Salah and Firmino, Shaqiri was granted a rare start.
And despite a frustrating first-half showing, it was his excellent delivery which assisted Gini Wijnaldum’s header to pull Liverpool level, 3-3 on aggregate.
Shaqiri played his role in that historic comeback—and ultimately Liverpool’s Champions League triumph—and it speaks volumes of his character that he was willing and able to seize the opportunity after such a difficult few months on the sidelines, and stamp his mark on one of the club’s greatest-ever nights.
The Future Role
It’s certainly a big summer ahead for Shaqiri, who will know he faces a real battle to have any prospect of significant game time next season after finding himself on the fringes as the campaign has progressed.
He will feel there is enough credit in the bank from his contributions this season that he deserves a chance to prove himself once more in pre-season and earn the manager’s backing.
The No. 23 has also recently stated that he will “definitely stay” this summer and honour his contract, so it seems as though he has the appetite to remain part of the squad and take his chances when they come around.
However, if clubs do come knocking and a reasonable offer presents itself which would allow Shaqiri to play a more prominent role and guarantee minutes on the pitch, then there is certainly a conversation to be had.
Much will depend on whether Shaqiri remains content to play a bit-part role in a Liverpool squad competing at the very top, or whether a step down in quality to secure more game time becomes a bigger priority.
With Liverpool also set to compete in the Club World Cup in Qatar—as well as the upcoming UEFA Super Cup vs. Chelsea and Community Shield vs. City—Klopp will need a large squad next season, and is unlikely to be wanting rid of many of the current crop as a result.
It’s certainly not a situation where Liverpool will be actively looking to shift him on with any urgency, but Shaqiri’s long-term future at the club looks far from certain as things stand.
Best moment: Undoubtedly his cameo off the bench against United at Anfield, as his two deflected strikes sealed a vital three points for Liverpool against their arch-rivals.
Worst moment: The 2-1 FA Cup third round defeat against Wolves, as Shaqiri was one of the few senior professionals in a highly rotated Liverpool side, but completely failed to impact the game in any meaningful way.
Role next season: A useful rotational option for the forward positions, but mostly limited to substitute cameos and cup starts. If he’s still here.