This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Xherdan Shaqiri could have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his quality against Newcastle United this weekend.
Having withdrawn from the Switzerland squad over the international break, the 27-year-old used the time to train at Melwood in a possible attempt to prove himself to Jurgen Klopp while the majority of his team-mates were away.
The former Stoke man has played just 16 minutes of competitive football this season despite Liverpool playing six games.
As a result, and due to not playing for his national team, he should be well-rested and determined to showcase what he can offer to this Liverpool side, and would likely jump at the chance to start on Saturday, though perhaps he should be fielded in a rather unfamiliar position.
With Liverpool’s front-three typically beginning the season in goal-scoring form it is hard to envision Klopp leaving one of them out of the side, but there is a case that Shaqiri could operate in the middle of the pitch, which he did on three separate occasions last season.
One of those was a 13-minute cameo in the defeat to PSG in the Champions League group stages, but the other two came in Premier League wins over Southampton and Huddersfield.
On his home debut against the Saints, Shaqiri was in inspired form and his presence in the side helped Liverpool to race into a 3-0 halftime lead. He was, rather surprisingly, substituted at the interval, but his display encouraged Klopp to give him another opportunity against Huddersfield a few weeks later.
In a tight encounter at the John Smith’s Stadium, Shaqiri unpicked the lock on Huddersfield’s back line, threading a sumptuous through ball into the path of Mo Salah, who slotted the ball home to hand Liverpool three vital points.
The pair of performances hinted that he could play a key attacking midfield role, but his career on Merseyside never quite took off as many expected it to.
There was enough evidence on show to suggest that, in a particular encounter, such as the one which beckons tomorrow, he should be included from the outset.
That would, of course, mean one of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, or Georginio Wijnaldum missing out, but given the aforementioned trio have only contributed one assist and no goals between them this season, it is an option Klopp should definitely consider.
Opta have recorded how often each Premier League team engages in pressing sequences so far this season, with Newcastle third-last, suggesting they like to sit deep and soak up the pressure instead of hunting the ball down.
That was the method that worked so effectively for them in their win at Tottenham Hotspur, and it is likely that Steve Bruce will once again look to restrict space to try to contain Liverpool’s threat.
It is in such circumstances where a player like Shaqiri becomes not only valuable but necessary.
One method the Reds often use to breakdown teams is crossing, but Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have been lacking in that area so far this season, with a crossing success rate of 12% and 21% respectively.
As a result, they will have to find an alternative. Shaqiri would provide a link between midfield and the front three, while he also has the ability to score from distance, with five of his eight Stoke goals in 2017/18 being scored from outside of the box.
That season was the last in which the Swiss featured regularly, and his return of seven assists and 2.3 average key passes per game underlines his threat in the final third, and how he could be the midfield playmaker to unlock the Newcastle defence.