By 90Min
September 25, 2018

Not many players can make themselves a fans' favourite before they play a minute of competitive football for the club, but then not many players score a scissor kick on their pre-season debut against Manchester United either.

Ever since that moment, Liverpool fans have been waiting to see Xherdan Shaqiri unleashed in the Premier League. A couple of cameos showed promise and his contribution to Liverpool's late show against Paris Saint-Germain last week did not go unnoticed. On Saturday, he was given his first Liverpool start against Southampton, and he seized the opportunity with both hands. 

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Within ten minutes, his shot had deflected in off Wesley Hoedt to break the deadlock, and in the final minute of the half his stunning free-kick came within inches of opening his Liverpool account. The ball bounced down off the bar, and Mohamed Salah was there to tap it over the line to make it 3-0.

Shaqiri's first start was everything Liverpool fans had hoped it would be and more, and with Southampton clearly not at the races this looked like the perfect opportunity for the Swiss winger to get his first Reds goal. Liverpool could also make a statement to the rest of the league by scoring three or four more.


Many observers were therefore bemused when the excellent Shaqiri did not emerge for the second half, replaced by the more defensively-minded James Milner. With Liverpool happy to settle for 3-0 and Southampton happy to avoid further embarrassment, the second 45 minutes was a complete non-event.

Liverpool were top of the league and would remain there after the full set of weekend fixtures had been played, the only Premier League side still with a 100% record. Yet it felt like a missed opportunity. Why had they not gone for the jugular?

"I said to Shaq that I have never taken a player off at half-time after such an influential half but we wanted more control. He wasn't injured," said Jurgen Klopp after the match.

It may sound silly to suggest that a team winning 3-0 needed "more control", but Southampton had their moments in the first half. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg could easily have reduced the deficit with a scuffed shot from 12 yards out, and there were one or two other moments of concern for Liverpool as well.

Taking Shaqiri off may have reduced Liverpool's attacking threat, but it did the same to Southampton. With the Reds reverting to 4-3-3 and Milner being his usual industrious self in midfield, the Saints barely had a sniff of goal. Not until the 90th minute did Charlie Austin force Alisson into his first save of the day.

What Klopp recognised was that Liverpool did not need to make an attacking statement. Everybody knows that this is a team which can blow any opponent away on their day. It was a much more powerful statement to keep a clean sheet, particularly with Joel Matip making his first start of the season at centre back.

When he was at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp described his style of football as "heavy metal" compared to the "orchestra" of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal. It's a very apt metaphor. Klopp's teams turn up the noise on their opponents, drowning them out until they are forced to submit.

But heavy metal is about letting go of the handlebars and going hell for leather. It's certainly not what you'd call controlled, and that lack of control - that refusal to sit back and accept 2-0 or 3-0 - is one of the reasons Liverpool fans love their manager. It's also one of his greatest weaknesses.

In 2016, with Liverpool 3-1 up away at Bournemouth, Sadio Mane was forced off with an injury. Klopp could have brought on Ragnar Klavan, gone to five at the back, and closed the game down to ensure victory. Instead, he made a like for like switch, bringing on Adam Lallana. It was 3-3 within ten minutes and Liverpool ended up losing 4-3.

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As recently as April, Klopp still hadn't learnt his lesson. Liverpool were 5-0 up against Roma at Anfield and cruising into the Champions League final. All that remained was to keep a clean sheet and the Reds would be effectively through even with the second leg to come.


Giving two-goal hero Mohamed Salah a rest made sense. Replacing him with Danny Ings when there were defensive options on the bench did not. Roma pulled it back to 5-2 and made the second leg much harder than it should have been for Liverpool, with the Reds eventually prevailing 7-6 on aggregate.

Klopp is a man to live and die by his footballing principles, but even he knows that if Liverpool are to win trophies, the time has come to swallow his pride and focus on substance over style. The decision to take Shaqiri off was an implicit acknowledgement of this fact.

Shaqiri was apparently a little subdued when he left Anfield on Saturday. At Stoke, his superior ability meant that he was basically undroppable, even when out of form. There are no such guarantees at Liverpool, and Shaqiri will probably find himself back on the bench for the trip to Stamford Bridge next Saturday.

"Great offensively, needs a little work defensively," said Klopp of Shaqiri. He must learn, as must all players who play under Klopp, that work ethic and tracking back are just as important as goals and assists.

There's a saying in American Football: offence wins games, defence wins championships. That may not tally with Klopp's heavy metal philosophy, but Liverpool fans could do with a bit of easy listening football from time to time.

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