When you nail as many transfers as Liverpool have done in the last few years, anything that appears less than obviously stellar raises eyebrows. If Liverpool are so smart and analytically minded, then what do they see in a just relegated Xherdan Shaqiri?
The first thing to note is that this is quite obviously a percentage play depth signing. The price of around £13.75 million is cheap by comparison to most in today’s market and for that you’re getting a vastly experienced international player who is amazingly still just 26 years old.
The obvious critique towards Shaqiri is his shot selection:
Unlike his NBA namesake, this Shaq doesn’t much care to go to the rim.
Shaqiri has scored memorable goals from range both for club and country but a player that appears to prioritise long range shooting appears to be slightly contrary to the idea that Liverpool are transitioning towards ever smarter shot locations, for which they certainly have the players. However, that may well slightly miss a necessary evil. Since the departure of Coutinho, who was variously feted and criticised for his long range shooting, usually depending on whether he was scoring them, Liverpool have lacked a go-to guy in that vein. It’s not that plan A should involve hammering in shots from 30 yards, but if plan A is faltering at the face of a parked bus, the idea that Shaqiri can be a plan B late sub who can try and make things happen is reasonably appealing.
Shaqiri’s shot selection might be less than optimal, but his ability to get shots quickly may be part what has attracted Liverpool. Of the 50 players to take more than 50 shots in the Premier League last season, Shaqiri ranks fourth for the amount of them that were taken within ten seconds of his team gaining the ball, with nearly 50% of his shots coming this way, and two thirds of them coming within the five and ten second mark. Liverpool can be a fast countering team when they are allowed to be, and Shaqiri fits fairly well into that profile.
Is his defensive work up to scratch?
The total volume here is mid range at around ten pressure events per game and it’s clear that he fairly rigorously kept to his flank last season. Liverpool’s uber-pressers such as Roberto Firmino or Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain clock in at 20-plus pressure events per game, so there’s room to catch up there, but Mohamed Salah was down on 14 per game, and it’s not unreasonable to envisage Shaqiri as a Salah back-up, at least as one of his potential roles.
What else do you get? He’s a pretty competent set-piece taker both creatively and for shooting. He ranked 8th in the Premier League last season for chances created via set pieces at 0.92 per 90. When you consider James Milner was Liverpool’s chief provider there and consider again the loss of Coutinho, the option of Shaqiri becomes again more logical.
What’s the risk? Not very much. At best you reinvigorate Shaqiri and find the guy that was of sufficient class to be part of Bayern Munich’s squad for two and a half seasons, at worst you have a player who is capable of leading the team through cup fixtures and offering general squad depth. At the price, even if the transfer doesn’t work out, it would be hard not to recoup after a year or two. Were this a banner signing it would be far easier to criticise, but there’s enough around the margins to see it as a reasonably smart play in an ever inflating market.
It would be a surprise to see Shaqiri taking staring minutes away from Liverpool’s dynamic trio of attackers, and it looks unlikely that he has enough versatility to drop further back into Liverpool’s midfield. However, Liverpool did great work last season in incorporating better rotation into their team selections and fleshed out the squad effectively. They promoted from within with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez and hit the jackpot with another unheralded signing in Andrew Robertson thriving.
More squad depth will do no harm, and the bottom line is that Liverpool are covering some areas that they are slightly lacking with Shaqiri. There’s quite a lot of player in there for your £13.75 million.
Header image courtesy of the Press Association