Despite their best start to a season in the Premier League era, Liverpool have still been a cause for much debate. Much of it has been focused on whether or not their performances rather than their form, have been good enough to sustain a title challenge.
Their unbeaten start of seven wins and two draws, has been matched only by Manchester City. And yet there has still been some grumbling about a perceived flatness and half baked performances.
In part a lot of this has come from the ludicrous standards set by Klopp’s men in the second half of last season. However, in a couple of games so far in this campaign, Liverpool had looked a little rusty and leggy.
In just over 180 minutes of football as they faced off against Napoli and City, they managed just two shots on target. Part of the problem, especially in that pair of games, seemed to be a in the link up between Liverpool’s two lines of three. In short, it was none existent. The forward line was starved of supply and easy to stifle.
Wjnaldum, Milner and Henderson are all good as individual players. But as a three they offer a collective lack of thrust and drive. They are not as readily available to fizz the ball up to the front three or force a break out with sheer pace and skill. However, one of their teammates does and, in his past two games, has offered this service by the bucket load.
Liverpool will no doubt face sterner tests this season than Huddersfield Town and Red Star Belgrade. They should though, be massively encouraged by the shifts put in by Xherdan Shaqiri in each of those matches.
Their £13 million summer signing was dropped into a deeper role behind the forward line part way through last weekend’s victory in West Yorkshire. Almost immediately Liverpool looked more mobile and more likely to force an opening, with Shaqiri pulling the strings.
The Swiss International is blessed with pace, an eye for a pass, quick feet and audacious skill. This was once again used to its devastating full potential on Wednesday night against the Serbian champions.
Shaqiri was as at the heart of everything Liverpool did for the first 65 minutes. Adding to his assist against Huddersfield, he played a lethal through ball to get Andy Robertson in behind the Red Star lines as his side took the lead. He also grabbed an assist for Salah’s first goal as he expertly played in the Eygptian for Liverpool’s second.
Subbed off halfway through the second half, it appears Klopp wants him primed for visit of the seventeen man defensive kicking machine that is Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City, on Saturday. It appears he’s now considered first team material.
Now it’s vital to not get carried away by a couple of performances against sides Liverpool be putting away. The Reds face some real tough cookies in the coming weeks though and will need Shaqiri to crack on with his eye catching form.
If he can deliver on a regular basis, it would be a real blessing for Liverpool as they look to keep the pace with Pep’s always impressive, Manchester City.
With Keita taking longer than expected to reach his best form and Henderson visibly flagging, they will need someone in that midfield base to join up with the front three.
Keita may also be allowed a crucial extra amount of time to find his feet in the mad house of the Premier League. If Liverpool can utilize Shaqiri ahead of the Guinean for now, then Klopp can ease the club’s second most expensive signing back into action.
Klopp’s most effective game is engineered around pace, energy and movement. Shaqiri offers that and has already proven that he can adapt and step up from the turgid football played by Stoke City. Liverpool and Klopp will now need him to consistently show his best as each game becomes a must win if they want to keep pace with Guardiola’s winning machine.