By 90Min
December 03, 2018

With an eye for goal and an ability to play between the lines, Xherdan Shaqiri has already adapted well to Jurgen Klopp's philosophy at the dawn of his Liverpool career.

The 27-year-old now has two goals and three assists his name, having made just six starting appearances in all competitions so far. So should he be starting more games? Could he usurp the position of one of Liverpool's attacking front three, or should he be playing in the hole? 

Despite spurning his chance when one on one with Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, we saw how much of a threat Shaqiri can carry when he is on the pitch.

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Shaqiri's positive performances for the Reds of late have already started to force Jurgen Klopp's hand, and might further warrant a week in week out starting berth. The Swiss star's continued rise at Anfield means that Liverpool's best formation is now surely one which includes the no. 23.

After arriving from Stoke in July for £13.5m, Shaqiri's reasonable price tag alone raised quite a few eyebrows. In the current market, getting a player of his pedigree and skill, by triggering his unusually low release clause, represents a bargain bit of business by the Anfield top brass. 

Now, the issue facing Klopp is how to accommodate the so-called 'Alpine Messi' into a Liverpool team already fit to burst with attacking riches. 

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Having played a 4-3-3 for the most part of the 2017/18 season, in the current campaign Klopp has switched between last season's setup and a 4-2-3-1 which effectively shoehorns the talented Swiss into his starting lineup.

In this formation, Shaqiri has demonstrated that he has definitely arrived at Liverpool: the sublime touch for Mohamed Salah's second at home to Red Star, the pair of unorthodox assists against Southampton, or the calmly taken third against Cardiff.

In a 4-3-3, the forward line is rarely up for debate and Shaqiri has so far missed out or been subbed on; Klopp has consistently opted for a front three of Sadio Mané on the left, Salah on the right, and Roberto Firmino through the middle.

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However, when Liverpool switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation, more often than not Firmino is being moved further back from his usual position into a now somewhat unfamiliar number 10 role, with Salah operating up front, and Shaqiri occupying the vacancy on the right.

In an attacking sense, there is an element of 'swings and roundabouts' with this: what you gain in Shaqiri, you seem to lose in Firmino. This season the Brazilian has only scored three goals in 19 appearances for Liverpool, compared to 12 goals in the same period last season. 

True, Liverpool now have Shaqiri as an option, but the Reds had Coutinho this time last year, before he left for Barcelona in the January window. With this in mind, one option Klopp has is to play a 4-3-3 and to trust Shaqiri playing as the creative, number 10 element in a midfield trio.

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With Liverpool set up like this, it offers the diminutive dynamo a free role in midfield and allows Firmino to play in his preferred position through the middle. 

While Shaqiri might be best deployed out wide, he can still be a threat in the hole, and the compromise is less detrimental to Liverpool going forward if Firmino's barren run continues. 

The one proviso might be that Salah has found more goals spearheading Liverpool's attack, but a player who scored 44 goals last season from the right has to be trusted to find goals from anywhere on the pitch.

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With a glut of first-team talent now on the Liverpool bench, and a midfield sometimes lacking impetus and verve, Klopp is still facing a real conundrum with his team selection. It does not seem like he is utterly convinced of what his best midfield configuration looks like.

In a 4-2-3-1, the midfield two act as an anchoring axis that can shield the defence and feed the full-backs on the flanks, or any of the attacking midfielders, in order to push further up the field. In this situation, Klopp has most commonly gone for the steady, all-round game of Georginio Wijnaldum, the leadership of Jordan Henderson, or newcomer Fabinho.

The benefit of this formation over the 4-3-3 is not just the added attacking player, it also allows Liverpool to control possession against teams who are increasingly sitting back off the Reds, warily attentive to the havoc they were able to wreak last season.

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But it also takes some of the edge off the midfield, and the supply chain between midfield and attack is far less vibrant than last season. The answer? No Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Oxlade-Chamberlain's eventual coming of age last season was a revelation, and his absence this season has been acutely felt. Man of the match performances and some astonishing finishes put paid to the doubts over his fee, as well healing the wound inflicted by Coutinho's departure.

The ex-Arsenal man brought balance, poise, and power to the team; now Liverpool's midfield looks uncertain and, at times, blunt and vulnerable. 


With Naby Keïta still unable to make the no. 8 shirt his own, James Milner feeling the lethargy of fixture build-ups, and Fabinho playing the same waiting game as the Ox, the centre of the park needs someone to step up and put their stamp on it.

Klopp attempted to sign Nabil Fekir in the summer, so a creative midfielder is obviously something he feels that his team is lacking. A Coutinho replacement never arrived at Anfield, but in Shaqiri, the German might already have a cost-effective solution to his midfield headache.

OLI SCARFF/GettyImages

Ever since the Reds lost Oxlade-Chamberlain to a knee inury against Roma, Klopp has been searching for the fulcrum that will bring balance to the team once again. By using Shaqiri as the creative pivot in a midfield three, he might find more than just a way to solve the balancing act. He could tip the scales in his favour for a full tilt challenge at the Premier League title.

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