Liverpool transfer decision doesn’t hide the facts about Xherdan Shaqiri

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Thiago Alcantara was bursting with class, the youngsters of Aston Villa won hearts and Sadio Mane continued to score goals.
But beyond the banner headlines, significant encouragement emerged on a curious night for Liverpool.

And it couldn’t have been more timely.

Xherdan Shaqiri had been on the Villa Park pitch for just two minutes when, after accepting a pass from Thiago, he drove a delicate ball into the area Mane encountered to curl a header for the Reds’ third goal.

Two minutes later, Shaqiri was again fed into space by Thiago and this time slipped a pass into the box for Mohamed Salah to turn around and strike home to seal a 4-1 triumph in the third round of the FA Cup on Friday.

Players and enthusiasts as they were, the players at Villa’s Academy weren’t exactly the toughest opposition Jurgen Klopp’s side will face this season.

It was telling, however, that Shaqiri made a positive difference after his introduction.

This has been the case for the Swiss this season. At Lincoln City in the Carabao Cup in September, he opened the scoring with a lavish and impressed free kick in a deeper midfielder role.

Shaqiri’s only other start, at home against FC Midtjylland in the Champions League, saw him play the defensive pass from which Trent Alexander-Arnold crossed for Diogo Jota to open the scoring.

Four days later, the Swiss came off the bench to provide Jota with the game-winning goal against West Ham United with another slide ball.

And although Shaqiri only played 34 minutes as a Southampton substitute earlier this month, only Andy Robertson provided more key passes for Liverpool throughout the game.

Quite impressive. But the problem with Shaqiri is one that has pursued him for much of his Anfield career – availability.

When in form, the 29-year-old has typically been used after being an unused substitute just three times this season. Problem is, that always equates to eight appearances.

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Indeed, it says a lot that Shaqiri has only played 84 minutes in the Premier League this quarter and has not started a high profile game since his home goal against Everton in December 2019.

That could change in the coming weeks, as Liverpool seek to address the midfielder’s lack of creativity that has defeated them by their title rivals.

Shaqiri will most likely be limited to a bench position for Manchester United’s visit on Sunday, no doubt hoping to replicate his performance of December 2018 when two goals as a late substitute took a 3-1 victory.

But starting opportunities are sure to present themselves in the coming weeks, with the Premier League champions facing seven games in 21 days.

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Of course, things would have been very different if Shaqiri had chosen to leave before the October transfer deadline.

Liverpool had no intention of pushing the player but would not stand in his way with a number of potential suitors expressing genuine interest.

Instead, Shaqiri stayed put. And things since have highlighted both the pros and cons of the Swiss during his time in Liverpool.

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