By Harry Siddle – @HS_10Ftbol
So far this season, Xherdan Shaqiri might have felt a little frustrated watching on from the bench in envy at Liverpool’s front three this season as he’s seen playing time hard to come by.
However, against Southampton we saw glimpses of the ‘’no-brainer’’ signing that Klopp was so eager to push through in the summer for Xherdan Shaqiri, as his relationship with the front three and attacking discipline impressed the most.
A growing relationship with the front three:
Even though he was substituted at half time for James Milner, which I will try to explain further in this article, what stood out most about Shaqiri’s performance against Southampton was his understanding and relationship with the front three. Whether that was offensive movements, combinations or more his understanding with the front three seemed seamless.
To demonstrate this understanding the 2 minute and 30 second mark showcased exactly what I’m talking about. As Trent Alexander Arnold receives the ball from Jordan Henderson, the simultaneous movements between Mane and Shaqiri allow Mane to come deep towards Trent whilst Shaqiri makes his movement in the opposite direction
From these two runs and the understanding between Mane and Shaqiri, Shaqiri was able to get free down the right half space and almost create a goal for Firmino.
To add to this example, it serves as a good example as to how hard it is for the opponent team to stop Liverpool when they deploy the 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 system.
The ‘’extra attacker’’ in Shaqiri who was situated in the right half space for the first half was a constant problem for whoever was marking him at the right-hand side for Southampton, as defenders getting dragged out of position, like we’ve just seen Mane do leaves unoccupied space for the likes of Shaqiri to exploit.
We see the good relationship that Mane & Shaqiri have again in an almost identical situation to before, this time in the 19th minute where one comes deep, and one goes in behind which creates space to exploit yet again.
It isn’t just instinctive attacking movements that Shaqiri has in common with the front three, but also one touch combinations between Shaqiri & front three were on show against Southampton this weekend.
It’s so important that Shaqiri seems to have developed this relationship with the front three already, as the attacking combinations as seen above will become so crucial in terms of breaking down a deep defence.
This example of intricate play above also highlights the positional discipline & intelligence that Shaqiri possesses. Given the responsibility as being the 3rd centre midfielder (most attacking midfielder), Shaqiri knows to hold his position between Southampton’s defensive and midfield line to not only be too close to Firmino as a passing option but being in a perfect position to combine with Salah and Mane if he receives the ball.
Even though Shaqiri was positioned as the right-hand side midfielder in a midfield three and showed how comfortable in an attacking sense he was, he was also comfortable when drifting over to the left-hand side to combine with Robertson and Mane.
To be able to operate at such a high level along the midfield line, away from your position added another dimension to Shaqiri’s game, and considering it was his first start in the Premier League for Liverpool it emphasises how impressive his performance was from an attacking standpoint.
He also seems to possess that sense of unpredictability as he displayed he has a tendency of making penetrative runs in behind as well as coming deep in the first and second phase to dictate play.
Shaqiri’s raw defending on show against Southampton:
This is where I try to explain why I feel Klopp substituted Shaqiri for Milner at half time for tactical reasons.
Despite excelling in an attacking sense, the raw side to Shaqiri’s defensive contribution in defensive transitions and basics were evidenced against Southampton on Saturday.
When Klopp uses the 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 formation, the defensive formation (out of possession) should be a 4-5-1 with Salah usually up top.
Despite this, throughout the first half Shaqiri would find himself too high which made a 2 with Salah so Liverpool were in a 4-4-2 in a defensive formation off the ball, which left them exposed.
From Shaqiri’s inability to be between Mane and Henderson in the desired 4-5-1 formation, Southampton were able to play through Liverpool’s midfield line and create a numerical overload on the right-hand side, which could have caused more problems.
This is not meant to criticise or blame Shaqiri, as it was his first start for the club, but to just analyse his performance. Aswell as this, Shaqiri’s defensive workrate whenever Southampton were out wide or from defensive transitions wasn’t to the required level if he wants to consistently start in the attacking midfielder position for the season.
The saving grace from all of this is that this is just his debut, but if we see these problems around Christmas time may the time when Liverpool fans should be concerned about Shaqiri’s defensive abilities.
From the start Shaqiri’s performance showed promising signs from an attacking perspective in his attacking midfielder role, in terms of creating and finding space as well as developing a great understanding between the front three in his first Liverpool start.
If he’s able to develop his defensive game to the level that Klopp demands of every player at the club then he really will have become the ‘’no – brainer’’ signing.