In idly standing by as Liverpool completed a bargain £13million swoop for Xherdan Shaqiri, Tottenham have missed a trick that may not only see the Reds leapfrog them in the Premier League compared to last season’s final standings, but could also propel Jurgen Klopp’s side towards genuine title contention in 2018/19.
That may come across as a hyperbolic notion, because for all the Switzerland international’s undoubted quality, which resulted in him clinching a career-best eight goals and seven assists in the Premier League last season, he still doesn’t seem like the right fit for the profile Klopp’s created at Anfield, one of selflessness and industriousness.
Whereas Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah – not to mention the midfield and defence behind them – made Liverpool Champions League finalists for 2018 through their ability to combine lethal flair with relentless energy, Shaqiri’s a far more docile presence, closer to Mesut Ozil than Alexis Sanchez.
Last season, playing for a Stoke side that averaged just 44% possession and made the third-most tackles of any Premier League club, Shaqiri managed just 0.7 tackles per match. Playing for a Liverpool team that record 58% possession, Mane and Firmino averaged one tackle and 1.8 tackles per match respectively.
Quite a chasm. But in many ways, that’s the real genius of Liverpool’s swoop for the former Potters talisman – the fact he doesn’t fit the system at all – and it’s something a likeminded manager in Mauricio Pochettino can learn from. It seems a strange thing to say about a side that reached a European final and scored 84 Premier League goals, but there were times last season when Liverpool became painfully one dimensional.
Carlos Carvalhal’s quip about putting a Formula 1 car in London traffic still rings true; when Liverpool are allowed to play at their speed in their style, they’re pretty much unstoppable. But when the opposition slow them down or force the game to be played around different dynamics, the Anfield outfit often come unstuck. See disappointing defeats or draws against Burnley, Newcastle, West Brom, Everton, Swansea and Stoke in the top flight alone for crucial evidence.
Tottenham have a similar kind of problem. When they can close down, press teams and break with speed, they can give any team in Europe a run for their money. When circumstances aren’t so accommodating and the challenge changes to unlocking a desperate defence though, Spurs don’t always find a way through.
While he may not encompass the ideals that have made Tottenham and Liverpool amongst the most exciting teams in the Premier League over the last few years, that’s what Shaqiri offers – the ability to unlock a defence, to do something uniquely special in tight spaces, to remove the backline from the equation entirely by ripping in a curler from long range – and through that modest relegation release clause he was certainly there for the taking this summer.
Perhaps that’s what the north Londoners see in Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish – he can jink past a defender, play a delicate pass or hit the net from distance too – but Shaqiri is the Premier League-proven model and one that cost Liverpool less than what Spurs will most likely have to pay for the promising young Englishman. £13million for Shaqiri, compared to a potential £30million-£40million for the Villa prodigy, at least according to the Championship club’s valuation.
And what this says about Liverpool and Klopp’s intentions for the new season shouldn’t be overlooked. Spending a world-record sum on a goalkeeper while bringing in two new central midfielders is statement enough of Liverpool’s intent, but signing Shaqiri suggests Klopp’s looking at the whole picture – not necessarily how to improve the Reds against the top teams, but how to give them the cutting edge against the clubs that always seem to get at their Achilles heel. It’s a 38-game multi-dimensional approach, and that’s what every club needs to sufficiently challenge for the title.
Suddenly, £13million seems like an incredibly small price to pay to solve those issues, and an incredibly big opportunity missed for Spurs. While Liverpool are completing signings to take them to the next level by increasing their consistency over a whole campaign, Tottenham remain just one of three Premier League clubs yet to make any signings this summer.
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